LEWISTON, Maine -- Senior captain Graham Bonnell's rise over his first three years at Bates has been something to behold. As a first-year, Bonnell (Southport, Conn.) competed at mostly the No. 7 position. But he zoomed up to No. 2 as a sophomore and last year took over the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Now he's the captain of a Bates men's squash team that looks similar, but at the same time, very different from last year's squad. The Bobcats open their 2019-20 season Friday night at Bowdoin, with their home opener set for Saturday at 3pm against Vassar.
"I'm just so excited for the season," Bonnell said on this week's episode of the Bates Bobcast. "We've got five seniors on the team who I'm really hoping can act as leaders on the team and hopefully win some big matches, but we've also got some really good young talent. All three first-years that we have are quite talented and I really have high hopes for all of them."
Bates, ranked 21st in the current College Squash Association national rankings, returns three All-NESCAC selections from a year ago, when the Bobcats finished fourth in the NESCAC with an overall record of 11-9. Bates finished the season strong by beating Amherst in the Summers Cup (C Flight) Consolation Final.
Bonnell, an excellent squash coach as well as player, was a first team All-NESCAC selection.
"It's really been an honor and a privilege to play that No. 1 position," Bonnell said. "I really have to give credit to my teammates who are very, very good and extremely capable, and I'm sure that they'll all be vying for the number one spot as well, and I invite that, that's great. It hopefully will push everybody to be better."
Fellow senior Mahmoud Yousry (Cairo, Egypt) played at the No. 2 position for Bates last year and earned second team All-NESCAC honors. Yousry is a three-time All-NESCAC selection. Junior Omar Attia (Cairo, Egypt) posted his second straight winning season (11-10) and earned second team All-NESCAC honors while playing at the No. 3 position for the Bobcats last season.
The Bobcats return seven of their starting nine from a year ago, with the graduations of 2018-19 captains McLeod Abbott '19 and Coley Cannon '19, a duo who played at the No. 5 and 6 positions respectively.
Sophomore Jesper Phillips (Moss, Norway) stepped in as a first-year and competed mostly at the No. 4 position. He earned nine wins in his rookie season. Meanwhile, Bates is strong up and down the lineup, with senior Garon Rothenberg (Brooklyn, N.Y.) likely to move up after another winning season. He has a 25-19 career record entering his senior campaign. Senior Benni McComish (Williamstown, Mass.) has a 21-17 career record and junior Dylan Muldoon (Devonshire, Bermuda) is off to a really strong start to his career, posting a record of 21-15 through his first two seasons.
Despite all the familiar faces, this is a new era for the Bates men's squash team.
The Bates Squash Center's courts have undergone a renovation this year, in time for this Saturday's home opener against Vassar. The team's coach is no longer Pat Cosquer '97, who has moved on to coach at Hobart and William Smith, but former Trinity standout Reinhold Hergeth.
"Rei was a great player at Trinity," Bonnell said. "He actually played number one for the Bantams and Trinity is a powerhouse in squash and has won close to 20 national titles. And it's really great to eventually have somebody on campus who brings that sort of winning culture. That's something Bates has strived for over the years with Pat, but it's something that we can improve on and we can't wait until Rei can really assist us in that endeavor."
The Bates squash program prides itself on its diversity. And this year's first-year men's squash class comes to Bates from three different countries. Jonathan Walker (Kingston, Jamaica), Jairaj Singh (Jaipur, India) and Sultan Hashmi (Belvedere, Calif.) join the squad. Overall, six different countries and five different states in the U.S. are represented on the men's squash team.
A lot is on the line Friday. The men's squash team is looking to defeat Bowdoin for a 30th straight match. The Bobcats have defeated both in-state rivals Bowdoin and Colby the last 18 years in a row.
"Both Bowdoin and Colby are definitely getting stronger," Bonnell said. "But I'm sure that we're up to the task."