The Harvard women’s squash team may have found the key to a national championship.
Her name is Lily Lorentzen, and don’t let the “Class of 2009” tag fool you. While she’s new to college squash, Lorentzen brings ample experience from a year spent training and competing on the professional circuit.
The Greenwich, Conn., native was accepted into Harvard a year ago, but deferred her enrollment to concentrate on squash.
Now finally a member of the second-ranked Crimson, her presence at the top of the ladder may give Harvard the advantage necessary to topple two-time defending Ivy League champion Yale.
“Our strength has always been at the top and at the middle,” Harvard coach Satinder Bajwa says. “Lily could definitely make our strength count in matches that we lost last year.”
Lorentzen, a four-time under-19 U.S. Junior National Champion, decided early in 2004 that she wanted to take a year off to train with an eye towards competing in the World Junior Squash Championships in July 2005.
“I just wanted to single-mindedly be more focused on my squash,” says Lorentzen, who preserved her amateur status by not accepting prize money for any of her competitions.
The summer after high school, she competed in the Pioneer Junior Open in Germany and the Dutch Junior Open, taking fifth and third. She spent the first half of last year at home in Connecticut working with a new coach, working part-time with the urban youth development program CitySquash, and playing in U.S. tournaments.
Then Lorentzen went abroad, playing in the British and Scottish Junior Opens in the winter and taking fifth in the British.
In the spring, she trained with some of the world’s best at Australia with the Institute of Sports.
At the World Juniors in Belgium in July, Lorentzen made it to the quarterfinals of the individual tournament before falling to the eventual champion, Egypt’s Raneem El Weleily. As a member of the four-person U.S. squad, Lorentzen did not drop a single match as the American team took fourth overall, its highest finish ever.
It was an intense schedule, but one that was worth the effort.
“It was definitely a very slow process getting better,” Lorentzen says. “I worked harder than I think I’ve ever worked. It was definitely a lot, lot harder than I expected...which made it really rewarding too.
“But it’s not easy to get better,” she adds.
After arriving in Cambridge this fall, Lorentzen took another turn on the international stage when she competed in the Harvard-hosted U.S. Open, losing in the qualifying draw.
As a result, she did not join the team for its annual Ivy scrimmage, where the Crimson eventually lost 6-3 to the rival Bulldogs.
The preseason match is not the best indication of what will happen when Harvard takes on No. 1-ranked Yale on Feb. 22, as neither Lorentzen nor two-time defending Individuals champion Michelle Quibell competed.
Last season, the Harvard women’s squash team came up one match short in its quest to dethrone Yale.
The Bulldogs escaped Cambridge with a 5-4 win and their two-year winning streak intact, and went on to win another Ivy League title and a second consecutive national championship.
With Lorentzen joining junior and last year’s No. 1 Kyla Grigg at the top of the ladder for the Crimson, Harvard now possesses a powerful tandem.
“They’re so evenly matched, although at the moment it looks like Lily has an edge,” Bajwa said. “But playing two, it means that we have a sure win between the two of them. And against teams like Yale, and Princeton, and Trinity, that’s a big plus.”
Lorentzen is new to the college rivalries, and is still making the adjustment to a schedule that includes school as well as squash—and team squash, at that.
“I still am adjusting to it, it still feels really different,” she says. “[But] it’s really nice showing up and having a lot of people to do things with. I have to be more flexible—it doesn’t all revolve around me.”
By the time Harvard gets into the toughest part of its schedule in March, Lorentzen should be well adjusted and ready to help the Crimson regain a title it hasn’t held since 2001.
“It’s almost like, had Lily been on the team last year, would we be national champions?” Bajwa says. “Probably, if you remember that match against Yale, we probably could have.
“On the other hand,” he continues, “this year it makes it a little more exciting. With her there’s a lot of expectation. Everybody feels more confident. And that expectation could mean some good positive play and competition.”
—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at email@example.com.