You can bet Hemenway Gym will be rife tomorrow afternoon with more than its usual distinctive odor. Defending national squash champion Princeton will come into Cambridge swinging, backed up by an army of rowdy fans. The Crimson racquetmen will take the courts in search of an elusive upset.
The Tigers have captured the national title five of the last six years, including the last three in succession. The Crimson's most recent national crown came during longtime coach Jack Barnaby's finale; as a example of how things have since changed, consider that Barnaby now guides the Harvard women's squad.
But the racquetmen display more than a glimmer of optimism when they speak of today's crucial contest. They agree the team has progressed immensely over the course of the season. They anticipate strong home support for the 2 p.m. encounter. And they share a sense garnered from history that anything can happen in "the rivalry" (It might be spelled "The Rivalry" if not for the low-key ethos of squash).
Although Penn rates strong consideration when discussing the national championship, the Crimson-Tiger rivalry has more bite.
"The match is a toss-up--they have the edge, but I hope that won't stop us," Crimson coach Dave Fish said last night.
"At the beginning of the year, I didn't feel we'd be very competitive, but we're looking close to them right now. And you never know what can happen," he added.
Senior Crimson captain Mike Desaulniers will occupy the top spot, and North America's number one amateur should guarantee the Crimson a victory. But Princeton possesses depth right down the line, and Harvard will have to muster considerable elan from the entire squad to clinch the win.
The secret of Princeton's success lies in its aggressive recruiting tactics. While no one questions black-and-orange admissions standards, some top Tigers have been lost to what some snickeringly refer to as the "Princeton syndrome," including a prominent member of this year's squad and, most notably, student-turned-squash pro Tom Page.
But the whys and wherefores become irrelevant when the athletes enter the little white box through the little white door.
Seniors George Bell and John Stubbs will face titanic struggles at the number two and three positions. Freshman Jordy Lemmon, sophomore Chip Robie and junior Joe Somers will perhaps prove the key at the middle ranks. And the Crimson will have to rely on Clark Bain, Robert Blake and John Dineen in the lower slots to avenge last year's 6-3 defeat in Jersey.
After the match, the spectators will drift out, enthusiastic beginners will replace the seasoned varsity squads in Hemenway's bowels, and the Gym will most assuredly retain its smell.
But one team will have got the best of "the rivalry," at least for this year.