Last night's men's squash competition between Harvard and Amherst was a test of will. As the nine matches, held at the Barnaby Courts in the Murr Center, progressed, tempers flared, frustration set in, and the rigors of the grueling five-game matches took their toll.
In the end, however, Harvard was able to maintain its composure when Amherst could not. The result was an 8-1 win that was closer on the courts than on the scoreboard.
Amherst came into the meet with a formidable 9-2 record. For Harvard (7-1, 3-1 Ivy), the competition was an important mid-season test, especially in the wake of an 8-1 defeat to Trinity last Saturday.
Yet last night, Harvard refused to be haunted by the recent defeat, and the Crimson rebounded in brilliant form.
Playing in the ninth spot, sophomore Rob Pike won three straight games against Amherst sophomore Jed Horwitt. Pike was clearly dominant, prevailing 15-2, 15-4 and 15-2.
In the eighth position for the Crimson, hard-hitting sophomore Ze'ev Ben-Shachar took Lord Jeffs' junior Raza Mujtaba to school, 15-8, 15-12, 15-10. Shachar slowly whittled away at Mujtaba's concentration, and by the end of the match, the Amherst player was making a number of unforced errors.
The seventh-seed match between Amherst sophomore Peter Rausmeier and Harvard freshman Dave Barry also went in the Crimson's favor--yet again, the depth of Harvard's roster shone through as Barry breezed to a 15-10, 15-12, 15-11 victory.
Junior Eric Lauer, playing at No. 6, continued the string of victories by downing Amherst junior Kunal Rakshit, 15-5, 15-3, 15-10.
Freshman sensation Peter Karlen outplayed Amherst senior Andrew Snyder in dramatic form in the fifth spot. Karlen cruised to a 15-12 win in the first game, and that was enough to bother his senior competitor.
Karlen, remaining loose and agile, continued to control the game play, while Snyder began yelling at himself and throwing his racket on the ground in disgust during the breaks. In the end, the freshman showed more maturity on the court than the senior; Karlen prevailed 15-9 and 15-8 in the last two games.
Harvard sophomore Andrew Merrill did not disappoint in the No. 4 match against Lord Jeffs' senior Stephen Seelbach. This match was in best-of-five format, and the players were closely matched. Merrill came out strong with a 15-8 win in the first game, but Seelbach battled back and won the second game 15-14. Merrill triumphed in the third game 15-12, and the match swung dramatically in his favor. By the fourth match, Seelbach was finished mentally and could only muster a weak six points, dropping the last game and the match.
The No. 3 match was also a back-and-forth duel, with Crimson sophomore Grayson Witcher winning, 15-7, 9-15, 11-15, 15-6, 15-5. In the end, the contest was decided by conditioning and mental toughness. Witcher's opponent Addison West was a sweaty mess by the fifth game and could not hold it together.
The marquee match-up of the competition between Harvard captain Tim Wyant and Amherst ace Kevin Orphan was the highlight of the night. Orphan benefited from a few Wyant mistakes to win the first game 15-13, but the competition had just begun. Wyant used a devastating combination of hard-hitting and soft touch to confuse Orphan and win second game, 15-11. In the third game, Wyant kept a very calm demeanor and edged Orphan again, 15-12.
As fatigue set in for the fourth game, Wyant wavered a bit. He committed a few key mishits, and Orphan, still playing strong, sensed the momentum shift. Orphan came out with a 15-9 win, and it looked like he would run Wyant into the ground in the fifth game.
But the fiery Harvard co-captain refused to give in although the epic match had gone almost 40 minutes. The two were on center court, and as the audience zeroed in on the climactic game, each point became more important and more hotly contested. The players fought to a 10-10 tie, when, in a defining moment, Orphan lost a step and gave up on the ball. Although the next few points were quite tense, lasting two or three minutes each, Wyant took the match, 15-10.
Although sophomore Deepak Abraham lost in the No. 1 game, the win is a nice confidence-booster as the team heads to Penn this Saturday.