Entering last Saturday's squash showdown with Harvard, the Princeton Tigers were not only undefeated, with the distinction of having beaten all of their opponents by 9-0 margins, but were cocky as hell.
The previous day, the Princetonian had talked of a 9-0 blanking of a Crimson team which had fallen two years running to the defending national champs. And upon arriving at Hemenway Gym, one Tiger racquetman inquired of his Harvard opponent, "Aren't you scared playing Princeton?" "Oh yeah, terrified," came the reply.
Gentlemen and Tigers
Their cockiness aside, however, the Tigers remained gentlemen. Before the match, what Crimson mentor Jack Barnaby described as a "beautiful Tiger blanket" was presented to the retiring Harvard coach in a gesture of appreciation.
Barnaby, himself a gentleman, then proceded to demonstrate his thanks. Unveiling a team which he claimed "couldn't have carried Princeton's racquets on the court without permission in November," Barnaby sat back and watched a "tremendous win," a 6-3 triumph over the favored Tigers which makes the Crimson the odds-on favorite to dethrone Princeton as the nine-man intercollegiate champions.
In order to achieve this title, Harvard's task is clear-cut. The Crimson simply has to win its remaining three regular season matches, and Barnaby will have his 20th nine-man championship.
Obstacle number on is MIT on Tuesday night, and victory over the Engineers should prove about as tough as the requirements in "Boats." On the following Saturday, however, the Crimson racquetmen host Penn and then travel to Yale, contests which will decide the championship.
"Penn is good (Gil Mateer, the Quakers' number one player is the best intercollegiate player at the moment), and the Yale match is away," Barnaby said yesterday. "Now we're on top, the team to beat, so everyone will be trying to knock us off. We're not home free by any means."
Well, they may not be home free, but anyone who has ever heard of Vic Niederhoffer knows that they at least have one foot in the door, which is a lot more than Barnaby ever expected in November.
And the reasons underlying his caution then were based on sound reasoning. Last year, when Princeton clobbered the Crimson by a 7-2 margin, Bill Kaplan played number two for Harvard and lost. This year he won in the first position, 3-1.
Playing at number five a year ago, Captain Jeff Wiegand was defeated; this year he triumphed 3-0 two notches higher. And to really defy logic, Princeton's Arif Safraz, who was the Tigers' number one man a year ago and undefeated for the season, had to drop to the second position because the Tigers came up with someone even better. Then why did Harvard freshman John havens dispose of Safraz, 3-1, last Saturday?
Colossal Team Effort
These three players, however, did not shock the Tigers by themselves, for, as Barnaby stated, "It was a colossal team effort, one of the best that I've ever seen." It was an effort which also featured victories by Mark Panarese (#6), Scott Mead (#8) Ted Humphreyville (#9), Ken Ehrlich (in an exhibition match at #10), and three near misses.
Peter Havens lost by a single point in the fifth and deciding game, Cass Sunstein by a similar margin in the fourth game, and Ned Bacon fell after a tough struggle in the fourth game as well.
The Final Member
It is the final member of the team, though, who deserves the MVP, for without Barnaby's tutelage, the players might still be holding Princeton's racquets.
"His record speaks for itself," Sunstein said, "he's the best." According to Havens (John), "he fosters an attitude that makes everyone want to practice. I believe whatever he says." Or, as Wiegand says in explaining the team's showing thus far, "it's a combination of a team which is teachable and ready to work and a really good teacher."
So while the coach praise the players, and the players laud the coach, and they all await next Saturday's Penn match, the top five players will be in Philadelphia this weekend competing in the national (as opposed to the intercollegiate) championships.
Individual and team competitions are staged with the Crimson, as well as other top collegiate squads and those from all over the country, competing in the latter division. Harvard opens against a team from Baltimore tonight, and if the past is any indication of things to come, you needn't be too surprised if the Crimson raises a few eyebrows in Philly--not with Jack Barnaby calling the shots.