NEW HAVEN, Conn.—As the world of women’s intercollegiate squash convened for the Howe Cup tournament this weekend in New Haven, Conn., the No. 2 Harvard women’s squash team made the trip south with just two goals.
In fact, attaining its primary objective—defending its title as intercollegiate squash championship—would almost certainly incorporate the second—avenging its 5-4 loss to No. 1 Trinity in Hartford two weeks ago.
The Crimson (8-2, 5-0 Ivy) fell short on both counts by a single point, losing to the Bantams (11-0) once again, 5-4. Trinity’s paper-thin, 9-2, 9-10, 2-9, 9-0, 10-9 victory at the No. 6 spot made the victory possible.
“The closeness of the match is a testament to how hard we worked,” co-captain Colby Hall said.
The weekend began easily enough for both teams, as both Harvard and Trinity cruised to 9-0 victories Friday.
The Crimson triumphed over Williams, spearheaded by Harvard’s top three—sophomore Louisa Hall, co-captain Margaret Elias, and freshman Lindsey Wilkins—who conceded only five points combined in defeating intercollegiate No. 14 Adrienne Ellman, No. 18 Selma Kikic, and No. 39 Clare Whipple, respectively.
Trinity, though, kept up the pace, matching the Crimson’s shutout of the Ephs by blanking Cornell. The Bantams won the 9-0 decision despite the absence of the Bantam’s No. 6 player, Clare Austin.
In Saturday’s semifinals, Trinity found itself in a sea of Ivy, as it took on Princeton while Harvard battled host Yale for a place in the final. Before the matches, Crimson Coach Satinder Bajwa made the decision to rest senior Carlin Wing, who had been bothered by elbow tendonitis during her match Friday, to save her for Sunday’s final.
Giving Wing the day off bumped Colby Hall into the No. 4 slot, shifting the rest of the lineup up accordingly. The lower two-thirds of the Crimson lineup appeared unaffected by the change, as Harvard sailed to a 9-0 victory.
Led by intercollegiate No. 1 Amina Helal, who routed No. 15 Annie Rein-Weston, 9-1, 9-1, 9-0, the Bantams’ top three had little trouble. But the Tigers managed wins at No. 4 and No. 5, with intercollegiate No. 36 Anna Minkowski and No. 37 Francie Comey upsetting No. 33 Samantha Lewins and No. 21 Mollie Anderson, respectively.
It was an overall good day for the Minkowski clan, as Anna’s younger sister Carolynne didn’t drop a game against Princeton No. 9 Jen Shingleton.
Saturday’s results set up the much-anticipated rematch between Harvard and Trinity. The match-up featured the top three and six of the top eight intercollegiate players and gave Trinity the opportunity not only to avenge its loss to Harvard in last year’s Howe Cup Finals, but also to become the first non-Ivy League school to capture the trophy.
“We’ve been there before, so we knew what to expect—a really tough, exciting match,” Wing said.
Indeed, the Crimson senior proved prescient.
Intercollegiate No. 8 Wilkins led Harvard out for the first round of matches in front of a strongly pro-Trinity crowd.
Playing intercollegiate No. 5 Pam Saunders, Wilkins was frustrated with the officiating early in the match. Trailing 6-2 in the first game, Saunders hustled to track down a Wilkins drop shot, but Wilkins claimed she hadn’t reached the ball.
On the next point, the animosity between the players escalated as Saunders complained that Wilkins was repeatedly running into her. Then, with Wilkins leading 8-4, more controversy ensued as she tripped over Saunders’ foot. Despite the distractions, Wilkins was able to escape the game with a 10-8 victory.
Trailing 7-5 in the second game, Wilkins seemed to lose her composure in dropping the next point. She rallied, though, to take the next two. Taking a moment to collect herself, Wilkins captured the last three points of the game for another 10-8 win.
In the third game, Saunders staked herself to a 2-0 lead, but Wilkins came back to tie the score with a pretty, angled shot. The Harvard freshman began to exercise her dominance in taking a 4-2 lead and, after dropping a point on a stroke, won the next five and the match as Saunders self-destructed, spraying shots over the court and into the tin and hitting the wall with her racket.
While Wilkins and Saunders battled on Brady Court, Austin and Harvard junior Ella Witcher, ranked No. 26 nationally, had the match of the day on Fiederowicz Court.
Austin took the first game 9-2, but Witcher recovered to eke out a 10-9 victory to even the match.
Witcher then won the third game, 9-2, but Austin, not to be outdone, held Witcher scoreless in the fourth, setting up the climactic final game. In front of a throng of anxious teammates and fans packed sardine-style outside the court, Austin ultimately prevailed, 10-9, in the afternoon’s tightest match.
Meanwhile, Carolynne Minkowski beat Crimson sophomore Kristin Wadhwa in straight games, 9-5, 9-6, 9-7.
The featured contest in the next round of matches was at No. 2, where intercollegiate No. 5 Elias took on No. 2 Lynn Leong.
Elias hit a near perfect shot to jump out to a 4-2 advantage in the first game, but Leong immediately came back, winning the next five points—the last three on gorgeous shots—en route to taking the game, 9-5.
The rookie then made quick work of Elias in the second game, winning 9-1, before closing Elias out with a 9-2 triumph in the third game.
Harvard co-captain and national No. 19 Colby Hall, in one of the final matches of her collegiate career, handily defeated Anderson at No. 5, 9-6, 9-4, 9-2, while freshman Hillary Thorndike had even less trouble at No. 8, beating Meridy Vollmer, 9-1, 9-2, 9-2.
Entering the last three matches of the day, then, the teams were tied, 3-3. The final round gave the fans an opportunity to watch the nation’s top player, Trinity’s Amina Helal and intercollegiate No. 3 sophomore Louisa Hall compete. Hall executed clinically in the first game, pounding her way to a 9-3 advantage.
“Louisa’s never taken a game from Amina,” Bajwa said. “She came in fighting and won the first game, but it’s hard to keep that going.”
Indeed, Hall began to feel the pressure of the moment, especially upon learning that freshman Stephanie Hendricks had fallen to Bronwyn Cooper, 9-0, 10-8, 4-9, 9-6 at No. 7, meaning Hall had to win to keep the Crimson’s hopes alive.
Unfortunately, Helal simply proved too commanding for Hall, defeating her 3-9, 9-1, 9-1, 9-3 to secure the Howe Cup for Trinity
Word of the Bantams’ victory reached intercollegiate No. 12 Wing after she took the first game of her match against Lewins, 9-7. Losing focus, Wing dropped the next game, 10-8.
However, Wing immediately channeled her anger and did not concede another point in winning the rubber game.
“It doesn’t say much about you as a team or as a player if you don’t show them how close it really was,” Wing said.
Immediately after the awards ceremony, Bajwa was already focused on the Crimson’s match Wednesday night at Yale that will determine the Ivy League champion.
“Someone had to be the losers and it’s us, but we could have easily been the winners,” Bajwa said. “These girls are very resilient. They can come back. They’ve got the Ivy title to play for.”
Wednesday night will also mark the last team match for Crimson seniors Elias, Wing, and Colby Hall.
“They are the most amazing group of seniors ever,” Louisa Hall said. “Of course I love my sister, but the other two are like other older sisters to me.”
The Elis defeat Princeton in last weekend’s consolation final, but, judging by the Crimson’s victory on Saturday, Harvard’s elder stateswomen stand a good chance to go out on a winning note.