How many Harvard students would believe that Harvard has a team that has won four straight national championships?
If you were to accept several man-on-the-street interviews conducted recently, not many at all. But as the Hemenway faithful would readily tell you, Harvard does have a team that has won four-straight national titles.
In fact, Harvard has a team that has a perfect record, a team that has the best player in the collegiate ranks and a team that has three All-Americas.
The Harvard men's squash team lists all those accomplishments--and many more--on its resume. Under the leadership of co-captains John Karlen and John Palfrey, Harvard attained collegiate squash's prestigious "double" this season; the Crimson blew through the regular season with a 12-0 record and a national championship and ten vanquished previously undefeated Western Ontario in the Potter's Cup post-season tournament.
Desire was Harvard's calling card this season. Although it was not the consensus favorite to win it all (that title fell on now-bewildered Western Ontario), second-year coach Bill Doyle sees Harvard's work ethic as the key factor in its sucess.
"We were looking at a rebuilding year," Doyle said. "No one expected us to be undefeated this year. Guys were committed from the beginning to work very hard and they did."
The Crimson were shaky at first but began to turn it on as the season progressed. The turning point was at Hemenway Gym against Princeton late in the season. The Crimson shut out the Tigers, 9-0.
"At that point, I think we said `hey, we're a pretty tough team to beat,'" Doyle said.
That epiphany proved to be exactly the confidence-booster Harvard needed.
Harvard came in to the final regular season meet against Yale hitting on all cylinders. After eight hardfought matches and a 4-4 tie score, the match came down to a five-point tie-breaker in the final game. It was Harvard's Tal Ben-Shachar against Tale's Jamie Dean.
With the outcomes of all the other matches already decided, the teams and fans looked on helplessly as Ben-Shachar and Dean Dueled.
Amazingly, Ben-Schachar stared down double match point, didn't blink, took two points to tie and then two more to win. The championship was Harvard's and it was sweet.
At the Potter, Harvard swept through the first two rounds of the upper-tier, defeating Williams 8-1 and Princeton 7-2. In the finals against Western Ontario, the Crimson eeked out a 5-4 win for the coveted Cup.
Adrian Ezra was Harvard's unquestionable star. Ezra was undefeated for the entire season, including tournaments. An All-American along with Karlen and Ben-Shachar, the senior captured the soft- and hard-ball singles titles.
"Ezra is in a class all by himself," Doyle said. "He is about three levels above everybody else. He is the fittest, most talented, and mentally tough player in the collegiate ranks."
Ezra's annhilation of the 64-person field at the inter-collegiate individual tournament at Brown closed out his brilliant college career. He is the first winner of four soft-ball championships in intercollegiate history and only the fifth collegian to win three hard-ball titles. In Ezra's tenure, Harvard has won an astounding four regular-season championships and three Potter Cups.
"He is arguably the best player at Harvard ever," Doyle said.
With the loss of Ezra, Harvard obviously has some big shoes to fill next season.
Tal Ben-Shachar, Joe Kaplan and Andy Walter will from the nucleus of the squad. Mike Masland, Michael Oh, and Ted Brunner are also expected to make significant contributions.
"We have a good core of guys coming back for next year," Doyle said. "We also have some promising recruits."
Ben-Schachar is not worried about next year's team. According to him, the Harvard squash tradition transcends individuals.
"I think the strength of the ream this year was the fact that we were so cohesive," the sophomore said. "Although the individual players will always be very important, our main strength continues to be the fact that we are a team."