W. Squash Stuns Rival Trinity

The near-capacity crowd roared with delight. Harvard coach Satinder Bajwa grinned from ear to ear as he bustled around congratulating his players. The defeated Trinity squad slunk off to the locker room.

And the No. 4 Crimson women’s squash team was still trying to come to grips with its 5-4 upset of the No. 2 Bantams.

“I can’t believe we beat Trinity!” was the joyous refrain echoing around the Murr Center last night.

Harvard (5-0, 3-0 Ivy) could be forgiven for its disbelief. After all, no current Crimson player knew what it was like to beat the Bantams (4-2).

The last time Harvard came out ahead of Trinity was in 2001, which was also the last time the Crimson won a national championship. In the following two years, the Bantams rose to become a veritable squash powerhouse, going undefeated in 2002 and 2003, and finishing with only one dual meet loss last season.

Yesterday, Trinity rolled into Cambridge stinging from a 7-2 loss to No. 1 Yale on Jan. 26. Harvard was fresh off an intense intersession training trip, and boasted several strong young players on its roster. But the Crimson, untested, was still perceived as the underdog.

The pressure was off. And Harvard was locked on.

“Since we lost to them in the final of the Howe Cup [in 2002]…we’ve had a lot of 5-4 losses,” Bajwa said. “And last year, we were sort of rebuilding the team. But now, having rebuilt the team, and getting back to the same level that we were, it was nice to get a 5-4 our way.”

Unlike last season’s 8-1 Trinity blowout, both teams appeared to be evenly matched from the start. Co-captain Lindsey Wilkins, playing at No. 2, grabbed a 1-0 lead over her opponent Vaidehi Reddy as both players played a patient game of waiting for each others’ mistakes. But Reddy fought back to take the next three matches and claim the win.

Sophomore Audrey Duboc dropped an extended 3-0 decision at No. 4 to Lauren Polonich. But co-captain Hilary Thorndike notched a quick 3-0 win at No. 8, and sophomore No. 6 Lydia Williams fended off a rally by Fernanda Rocha to win her match 3-2 and keep the teams tied at 2-2 midway through the contest.

With the stands swelling with fans from both schools, the final five matches were marked by raucous cheering and tight, tense victory margins. Junior Stephanie Hendricks lost a seesaw match at No. 9 3-2, but junior Allison Fast endured a long bout with Siobhan Knight at No. 7, eventually triumphing 3-2.

And while the legacy of losing to Trinity was ever-present in the minds of the Crimson veterans, it was a pair of players new to the rivalry whose wins made up the necessary margin of victory.

“I used to read about [Trinity] online, and I know that Trinity’s always been notorious for beating everyone all the time,” freshman Supriya Balsekar said, “and our captains and seniors and people who’ve been on the team the past years have all psyched us up about it.”

Balsekar, playing at No. 5, came back from an 8-2 deficit in the fourth game to force a decisive fifth game and cement the upset for the Crimson.

No. 3 Jennifer Blumberg stormed to a quick 2-0 lead over Larissa Stephenson, and then resisted a late surge by her opponent in the third game to claim the win.

“I was down in the third game and I was thinking, ‘okay, well, I’m losing, but I gotta win because I have the whole team standing there, and they’re all cheering for me, and I have to win this,’” Blumberg said.

Sophomore Kyla Grigg took an early 2-0 lead over intercollegiate No. 5 Lynn Leong but dropped the match in five games to complete match play.

Still, the Crimson had secured the necessary five wins, and was ready to savor an unexpected win that was a long time in coming.

“We weren’t really the favorite,” Bajwa admitted, “but the team exemplified that they’ve chosen a sport and they’re committed to it. And that commitment really took them to the 5-4 win today.”

—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at kennell@fas.harvard.edu.

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