Despite suffering from injuries and the absence of its second-best player, the Harvard men’s squash team defeated league rival Cornell, 5-4, on Saturday morning at the Murr Center.
The Crimson (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) has never lost to the Big Red (2-3, 1-2) in squash, a streak that was barely kept alive this weekend.
Harvard won at No. 1, 2, 3, and 4, while Cornell was victorious in the fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth positions. It was the No. 7 matchup between Crimson sophomore Alastair Smith and Cornell captain Omar Mangalji that decided the match.
“We knew where our wins were going to be,” coach Satinder Bajwa said. “There was no margin for error.”
The match between Smith and Mangalji lived up to the billing, as the two players fought back and forth over five games in front of dozens of spectators.
Smith took the first two games, 9-6, 9-6, before dropping the next two, 9-5, 9-2. Despite frustrations on both sides, Smith kept his composure and put together a few key point streaks in the tightly contested fifth game. Aided by the support of his enthusiastic teammates, Smith prevailed, 9-5, to win the match.
“Alastair and the top four were carrying a big burden,” Bajwa said. “The whole team was fantastic.”
The win was officially sealed a few minutes later when sophomore No. 1 Colin West wrapped up his 9-0, 9-2, 9-2 straight-set victory.
The Crimson, which graduated seven players from last year’s team, found Cornell to be an unusual challenge this year. The victory, however close, was huge.
“It would have put a damper on the season to lose to Cornell,” junior captain Verdi DiSesa said. “It’s good that we pulled through.”
DiSesa at No. 2, freshman J. Reed Endresen at No. 3, and junior Niko Hrdy at No. 4 were all victorious in straight sets.
“We knew it was going to be a fight,” Bajwa said. “Everyone came and performed the best they could.”
With an improvised ladder and injuries in key places, along with freshman Richard Hill competing internationally at the South East Asia Games, the Harvard win was even sweeter.
“It builds the character of the team that will be needed for big matches in February,” Bajwa said. “Everyone is better for it.”
“Verdi has been a great leader through the injuries,” Bajwa added.
Beating a team that has already defeated perennial contender Penn bodes well for the remainder of the Crimson’s season, which picks up again in February after the 5-Man Team Championships next weekend.
“It sets the tone for the rest of the season,” DiSesa said.