Harvard Falls in Howe Cup Game with Heartbreaker

After drubbing Stanford and Penn, Crimson loses thrilling match against Princeton

'HOWE' DID THAT HAPPEN?
Jessica S. Lin

No. 5 junior Katherine O’Donnell and the women’s squash team couldn’t maintain the dominance it exhibited against Stanford and Penn when taking on Princeton in the national-title match, falling 5-4 on Sunday. The win for the Tigers was their third straigh

The No. 2 Harvard women’s squash team fell to No. 1 Princeton 5-4 in a thrilling Howe Cup Championship Final Sunday afternoon in an epic bout that will go down as one of the most thrilling in the tournament’s history. The team reached the final by dispatching No. 7 Stanford and No. 3 Penn in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, respectively.

The defeat marks the third time in the last five years that the Crimson has fallen in the Howe Cup final, although this one was certainly the closest.

“The whole team was incredibly ready for this match,” junior captain Johanna Snyder said. “We went out there, totally in the zone. Luck just didn’t go our way.”

The second-place finish is a marked improvement over last year’s performance, in which the team fell to Trinity in the opening round and took fifth place in the tournament.

Harvard next gears up for the CSA Individual Tournament in Williams, Mass., to be held Feb. 27-March 1.

PRINCETON 5, HARVARD 4

The Crimson came up just short in the national-title match, falling 5-4 to the Tigers. The loss gave Princeton its third-consecutive national title.

But Harvard certainly had its chances.

Masterful performances by No. 5 junior Katherine O’Donnell and No. 6 sophomore Bethan Williams were offset with losses by No. 3 freshman Emily Park, No. 9 sophomore Ali Zindman, and No. 2 sophomore June Tiong.

Williams displayed some spectacular shot-making in her victory, adeptly adjusting to balls off the back glass, reflexive chop volleys, and potent defensive lobs to defeat the Tigers’ Maggie O’Toole (7-9, 9-4, 9-3, 9-5), who a week earlier had bested Williams, 3-1.

With the score 3-2 in the Tigers’ favor, No. 8 freshman Cece Cortes led Nikki Sequiera, 2-0, in games and was within two points of winning her match, and ultimately the championship. However, Sequiera launched a comeback for the ages, winning 27 out of the next 30 points to take the match (3-9, 2-9, 9-7, 9-0, 9-3).

With her team down 4-2, freshman No. 1 Nirasha Guruge built a 2-1 advantage over Princeton’s Amanda Siebert and led 4-1 in the fourth set. However, Siebert clawed her way back to take that game 9-5, and rolled over Guruge 9-1 in the fifth as the Tigers celebrated the championship.

“We were in a winning position,” Harvard coach Satinder Bajwa said. “It was just not meant to be. Sometimes sport works in mysterious ways. Everybody played their best squash, but it just didn’t seem to go our way.”

With the outcome already decided, Sophomore No. 4 Alisha Mashruwala and No. 7 Snyder turned in gutsy performances, winning 3-1 and 3-0, to narrow the final margin.

Despite the loss, Harvard can rest assured knowing that it will be back with a vengeance next season.

With no seniors on the squad and seven out of the starting nine in their first or second years, the team will certainly be a top contender for the 2010 Howe Cup—and the 2011 Howe Cup, for that matter.

“I’m really excited about next year,” O’Donnell said. “I think we needed the experience of a national-title match. It changes the way you look at the rest of your career. It matures and focuses you.”

HARVARD 7, PENN 2

The Crimson efficiently dispatched No. 3 Penn, 7-2, Saturday afternoon in the semifinals of the Howe Cup.

Despite having defeated the Quakers soundly just ten days earlier, the team remained focused on the match at hand and didn’t allow visions of a rematch with Princeton to affect its play.

“We put all of our effort into this match and didn’t worry about tomorrow, because if we don’t win against Penn, we don’t get to see tomorrow,” Snyder said.

Cortes and Zindman each dominated their matches, 3-0, to give Harvard an early edge. A pair of 3-1 wins by Williams and Park built on that lead.

With the score 4-0, Harvard was poised to clinch a berth in the finals against Princeton. Playing on adjacent courts and each up 2-1, O’Donnell and Snyder entertained the crowd with a game of “who-can-clinch-first” for the Crimson.

It was a battle won narrowly by O’Donnell, with an 8-10, 10-8, 9-7, 9-3 victory over Christina Matthias of Penn that would send the Crimson to the finals. Snyder closed out her match moments later with a 10-8, 9-3, 4-9, 10-9 victory to ice the cake.

Penn’s only victories of the day came in the top two flights, where the Quakers’ Kristen Lange and Sydney Scott swept No. 1 Guruge and No. 2 Tiong, respectively.

HARVARD 8, STANFORD 1

Harvard cruised past No. 7 Stanford, 8-1, Friday afternoon in the opening round of the Howe Cup.

The Crimson jumped out to an 8-0 lead with six out of the nine flights, sweeping their matches 3-0.

Guruge downed the Cardinals’ Lilly Lorentzen, a former Harvard standout and 2006 individual national champion, in dominating fashion (9-1, 9-0, 9-6) to win her second consecutive match at the top flight.

The only blemish of the day came at No. 7, where Cortes suffered her first loss of the season, a 9-5, 9-8, 9-6 setback to the Cardinal’s Kyla Sherwood.

—Staff writer Barrett P. Kenny can be reached at bpkenny@fas.harvard.edu.

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