By BOB YORK –
For the second straight season, Deerfield Academy made it to the middle rung of the medals podium at the New England Independent Schools Association Girls Class A Squash Tournament. Prior to accepting the silver medal, it got to glance down at Nobles School as it was being presented its bronze medal. Then, the Big Green players got to look up to watch Greenwich Academy receive its gold medal – again.
Yes, this year’s title quest concluded in a photo finish of last winter’s race, as these two rivals refuse to blink until the fat lady sings. This season, the Gators, who now have 15 New England championship pennants dangling from the rafters of their gymnasium, bested Deerfield by a 10-point margin, 112-102. And, considering Greenwich swept all seven brackets of the tourney, a 10-point margin was a rather slim one.
Deerfield, which finished second to the Gators last year by a five-point bulge, 107-102, has managed to stay within striking distance of Greenwich by posting a pile of second-place bracket finishes. So, while Greenwich was posting seven firsts, worth 16 points each, Deerfield was runner-up (15 points each) in six of the seven brackets.
Last winter, Deerfield won two brackets and finished second in the others to keep the margin of victory at five, while it bested the Gators two years ago, 109-108, to put an end to Greenwich’s New England championship streak at 13. That championship eventually leaned Deerfield’s way after it rang up four firsts and three second-place finishes. Greenwich, meanwhile produced three firsts and four seconds to end up on the outside looking in for the first time in more than a decade.
“It was another outstanding season for the Deerfield girls squash program,” said its mentor, Karinne Heise. “We went 12-2 during the regular season and finished second in the New England tournament, so that’s plenty to be proud of.”
The only thing that fell into the what-if category as far as this team was concerned, was a shot at the National Tournament title. Last year, the Big Green placed second there – behind Greenwich – but this year’s festivities, which were scheduled for Feb.9, were postponed to due to a snowstorm.
This has been a storied time for a storied program. Over the past three years, only one other New England girls prep school team has been more successful than the Big Green. Over the past three years, Deerfield has chalked up one New England crown and a pair of second-place finishes. Just getting there, though, has been a lot of fun, too, as this program has rolled to a 48-6 record during that time span.
Emily Jones (’13) is one of three Big Green players – Hunter Sechrest (’13) and Addie Fulton (’14) being the others – who have played a part in this three-year surge.
“Playing squash at Deerfield has just been a phenomenal experience for me,” said Jones, who has been plugged in as Deerfield’s top seed for the past two years and has responded quite well with a 9-3 showing this season and a two-year mark of 21-9 considering she’s facing the best of the best night in and night out. Adding to her due diligence is the fact that up until eighth grade, Jones’s primary sport was tennis, and now, five years later, she’s ranked 15th in the Under -19-year-old bracket in the country and is about to continue her squash career at Harvard University.
“I feel as though a great deal of the success of this program belongs to coach Heise,” added Jones, who was named recipient of the Bayne Bowl, which is annually presented to the team’s Most Valuable Player. “She’s helped create a winning atmosphere as well as a supportive atmosphere on this team and they’ve gone hand-in-hand to help make this program not only one of the very best in New England, but one of the very best in the entire country. I know when I came in here four years ago, I immediately felt as though I was a part of this team and I know the freshmen who have made this team the last three years have felt the same way. We’re just one big family and everyone pulls for each other.”
The pulling is always made much easier by the winning and there was plenty of winning this winter – top to bottom in the lineup. In fact, Jones’s nine victories marked the only spot throughout the lineup that a regular Big Green player failed to earn double figures in wins.
Sam Chai (’15) who went 17-2 last year, before capturing the New England title in the Third Bracket, moved up to the second tier this winter to go 10-1 and grab a silver medal. Fulton (11-2) was a silver medalist at No. 3, while Carey Danforth (’14) has rolled up a 30-4 record and a pair of second-place finished at the New England tourney to show for last two years on the roster.
Lindsey Dewey (’14), who won the seventh bracket at the New Englands last year after a 17-2 record, moved up two slots this winter and it paid dividends for the Big Green as she went 12-1 on the campaign and took home a silver medal. The sixth slot went to Annie Blasberg (’16), who followed up a 14-2 regular-season record with a second-place finish, while Hunter Sechrest (’13) who will be playing at Dartmouth next year, wrapped up her Big Green career at the seventh tier by going 12-1 and like most of her teammates, finished second at the New England meet.
“I felt good about our strengths as a team this year,” said Heise of a Deerfield squad that blanked eight of its opponents by 7-0 margins, while it settled four other outings by a bulge of 6-1. “I’m very happy with the way things went for us … I think the girls gained a great deal of experience from the level of play they achieved last year and this year, they just continued where they left off.
“We’re only losing two of our regulars to graduation this spring,” added Heise, “so I’m hoping we can continue the momentum we’ve been able to build over the past few years.”