The Harvard men’s squash team finished third in the National Intercollegiate Squash Racquets Association (NISRA) team championships this weekend, losing its semifinal match to eventual national champion Trinity before winning a consolation match against No. 3 Yale.
The weekend concluded a season marked by injuries and youth. The Crimson began the season ranked second in the national polls, but a midseason injury to co-captain Peter Karlen had contributed to recent losses to Ivy rivals Princeton and Yale. Harvard found a measure of redemption this weekend by exacting revenge on Yale and giving Trinity a tougher match than expected.
Harvard 8, Yale 1
In the consolation match, the Crimson took third place with a surprisingly easy rout of the Bulldogs. Harvard avenged a 6-3 loss earlier in the week.
At the top of the lineup, sophomore No. 1 James Bullock continued his breakout season with a 3-0 rout of Anschul Manchanda. Manchanda had taken Princeton No. 1 Will Evans to five games earlier in the tournament, but was overwhelmed by Bullock as their match progressed.
“It was typical James,” junior Dylan Patterson said. “He had a tough first game against a good opponent, and then just took over.”
For his part, Patterson swept Eli captain Peter Grote at No. 2, ending a stretch of losses to ranked opponents that had lasted for most of the dual match season.
“It feels great,” Patterson said. “It had been a rough season for me, and it’s great to know that all of the training and hard work still pays off.”
Patterson was one of four Harvard players who reversed his loss in last week’s Ivy League match to secure the third place finish. Junior Thomas Storch, sophomore Ziggy Whitman and freshman Asher Hochberg also avenged individual losses to Yale four days earlier.
Trinity 8, Harvard 1
Harvard 8, Williams 1
In the semifinals, freshman Mike Blumberg posted Harvard’s only victory against the Bantams. But several things had changed from Harvard’s last loss to Trinity—several of the individual matchups were closer than they had been on Feb. 2. And Blumberg beat a vaunted opponent in Lefike Ragontse, last year’s individual national runner-up.
“Our expectations were that we were going to leave it all on court,” sophomore Ziggy Whitman said. “We thought we were going to have a tight one because we had nothing to lose this time.”
The highlight of the afternoon for the Crimson came in the final match of the day. With the result of the overall match already decided, the Murr Center crowd converged on one court as Blumberg, who was bumped up to the third spot for the weekend, picked up the Crimson’s only victory.
Blumberg preserved the only undefeated personal record for Harvard in an exhausting five-game battle with NISRA No. 7 Ragonste. The freshman showed maturity beyond his age, retaining his composure after losing a 6-0 lead and dropping the first game 9-7.
“There’s always pressure in a match like this, especially against Trinity,” Blumberg said. “I knew it was going to be a really close match going in. The pressure is just to play my best in those circumstances.”
Changing speeds on his opponent and executing beautiful shots, Blumberg came back in the second game to win 9-6. After a long point at 7-7 in the third game, the opponents traded services several times before Ragonste pulled out the game, 10-9. A shorter 9-6 game in Blumberg’s favor tied the match 2-2, and he carried the momentum into the deciding game.
There, Blumberg displayed his conditioning, immediately running out to a 5-0 lead as Ragonste appeared more tired and slower to the ball. Making his opponent run from corner to corner, Blumberg dictated play and closed out the match with a convincing 9-3 win.
“He’s a [expletive] animal,” sophomore Ziggy Whitman said of Blumberg.
Harvard got close to another victory in a grueling five-game match at No. 4 between Whitman and Trinity’s Nick Kyme, another top-ten player.
After losing the first game, Whitman changed up the pace of his shots and won the next two games 9-4. With a victory within reach, Whitman fell just short in the fourth game, 10-8. In the fifth game, Kyme pulled out a 9-7 victory with each point a prolonged battle between the two competitors.
“I left it all on the court,” Whitman said. “It really hurts to come that close and come up short. But he’s a great player and a friend from juniors. It hurts, but I put everything I had into it.”
At No. 6, junior Thomas Storch gave early hope to the Crimson, fighting off two game balls and winning the first game 10-9. Storch then dropped the next three games 9-5, 9-0, 9-5.
The only other game Harvard won was at No. 5, where co-captain David Barry tied up his match 1-1 with a 9-3 victory in the second game. His opponent then pulled out the next two games for the 3-1victory.
“Today we were just that much closer [to defeating Trinity],” Blumberg said. “Ziggy had a great match at 3-2, and he was in there every step of the way.”
On Friday, the Crimson opened the competition by defeating Williams, the fifth-seeded team in the tournament.
Harvard duplicated a late-January 8-1 win over the Ephs. Its lone loss came at the No. 2 spot, where junior Dylan Patterson fell, 3-1. Bullock defeated twelfth-ranked Parth Doshi, 3-1.