ATHLETES OF THE WEEK: Duo Sparks Historic Championship Run

Meghan T. Purdy

Over the weekend, two players etched their names into the history books.

For the first time since 2000, a single school holds both the men’s and women’s national individual squash titles. No Harvard team has managed such a feat in 12 years, but that ended when the senior duo of Kyla Grigg and Siddharth Suchde brought both titles back to Cambridge.

For both players, the road to the championship has been a long and winding journey. Each has overcome similar obstacles before claiming their title, and for both, the third time has truly been the charm.

Grigg reached the finals in her sophomore and junior years but was upset each time, coming away with the second-place trophy both times. Similarly, Suchde nearly claimed the title last year but fell short to four-time champion Yassar El Halaby.

His eventual opponent, Mauricio Sanchez, had already bested him twice this season, both times in straight games. After being so close to victory—and with this year being their final season of collegiate squash—the two seniors felt that their time had come.

“I had put a lot more pressure on myself just because I knew I could do it and I had done it before,” Grigg said. “In the previous seasons...I knew I could [win] but I didn’t expect myself to do it.”

If there ever existed a right time for Grigg to finally nab the championship, it was this year. The senior posted an undefeated season, going a perfect 12-0 in the number one position. As the top seed in the tournament, Grigg only dropped three games on her way to grabbing Harvard’s tenth individual women’s title.

In the finals, Grigg used her experience and knowledge of the game to overcome Kristen Lange of Penn, besting the freshman by a 3-1 count. Lange, who won all her matches in straight sets, was stunned when Grigg snatched control of the contest and took the first game 9-5. After a resurgent 7-9 win from Lange in the second, Grigg regained control and prevented the freshman from getting any good shots on the ball.

“With Kristin, you can’t give the ball to her up front, and as long as I kept it away from the front I was OK,” Grigg said.

Grigg manipulated her opponent in her textbook dominant form, winning the last two games 9-3, 9-5. Still, even with the title, she remains humble, attributing her individual success to her teammates.

“All of my success is due to the team...they’re the reason I got up and went to practice,” Grigg said. “Even though it was an individual event, you’re still part of the team.”

Grigg’s classmate and good friend Suchde took the court after her to face Sanchez, an opponent responsible for two blemishes on Suchde’s 2007 resume. 

Suchde had amassed an impressive resume this season, playing in the top position all year. On the way to the finals, Suchde only dropped two games all season. He also ousted the top seed Basset Ashfaq of national champion Trinity in straight games.

In their third meeting and final meeting, Suchde outlasted Sanchez 3-1 and collected Harvard’s 27th men’s individual squash championship.

He came ready to claim what he believed was rightfully his; the senior struck first, earning an impressive 9-2 win. Sanchez soon adjusted his play, however, pushing Suchde much harder in winning the second set 9-7. However, Suchde wanted the championship too much to allow a comeback.

“It was definitely a disappointment in my senior year not to reach the finals of the nationals for team event because we had done so the previous years,” Suchde said. “I kind of wanted to make amends. When you have six of your teammates watching your match, it feels like a team event more than an individual one.”

Suchde, inspired by his sideline supporters, pushed through a difficult third game that saw Sanchez force an 8-8 tie before Suchde claimed the final two decisive points to win 10-8. With only one game remaining to seal the coveted title, Suchde utilized the momentum from earlier in the match and grabbed the championship, winning the final game 9-2.

Now, after all the two have experienced throughout their collegiate careers, the national championship seems a fitting reward for their hard work and dedication.

“To have the win for both the men and women, I am very proud,” coach Satinder Bajwa said. “They are both very deserving.”

—Staff writer Vincent R. Oletu can be reached at voletu@fas.harvard.edu.

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