No. 5 Harvard Eyes Ivy Crown

When the Trinity men’s squash team won its first national team championship, Harvard co-captain Will Ahmed was in the third grade. And 13 years after the 1999 season, no team has managed to dethrone the Bantams.

According to the 2011-12 CSA preseason rankings, this year will be no different, as Trinity remains the nation’s top seed. But there will likely be more parity in college squash this season, as the Bantams enter the year without four of their top five players from a squad that last year took home Trinity’s 13th straight championship.

“Trinity lost some big players,” Crimson sophomore Gary Power said. “There are definitely going to be two or three teams competing [for the national title]. There’s no clear favorite right now … but Trinity’s still the team to beat.”

No. 2 Yale—which nearly took home the national crown last year, bowing to the Bantams, 5-4, in the Potter Cup finals—will likely challenge for the CSA team title again this season.

And don’t count out the No. 5 Crimson. Although tomorrow marks Harvard’s first official matchup, the Crimson competed last weekend at the Bulldogs’ Brady Squash Center in the annual Ivy League scrimmages. Harvard came away with the overall victory, toppling Princeton, 7-2, before taking down Yale, 5-4, in the finals of the preseason tournament.

Harvard returns seven of its top-nine players from last year’s squad and will be aided by sophomore transfer Ali Farag and a talented freshman class. At the Ivy League scrimmages last weekend, three rookies—Nick Hopcroft, Julian Kirby, and Tyler Olson—played in Harvard’s top nine.

“[Our success at the Ivy League scrimmages] says a lot about the potential we have,” Power said. “It just creates a very positive atmosphere and is a good basis for the start of the season. … But we still have to beat all of those teams [in the regular season].”

The Crimson officially begins the 2011-12 campaign tomorrow at No. 10 Williams. Last season, Harvard took down the Ephs, 8-1, at Barnaby Courts two days after sweeping Brown in the first match of the year.

“This is the best team I’ve played on since being at Harvard,” Ahmed said. “It’s the first time I think we have a real shot to win a national title as well as an Ivy League title.”

Instrumental to a Harvard bid for the national crown will be newcomer Farag. The sophomore transferred to Harvard at the beginning of the school year from American University in Cairo and currently boasts the No. 1 junior ranking in the world.

“[Farag] is an amazing player,” Power said. “He’s coming from a new country and speaking a second language. … He makes everyone better because he sets such a high standard.”

Power, who played at the top spot for Harvard throughout the 2010-11 season, will start the year in a new role, as he and classmate Brandon McLaughlin compete for Harvard’s No. 2 spot. Power ended his freshman campaign ranked No. 7 nationally after an impressive performance at the CSA National Individual Championships. McLaughlin, who played No. 4 for the Crimson last season, currently holds Harvard’s top spot, as Farag awaits eligibility.

“All the way through the lineup we have really close [challenge] matchups,” Ahmed said. “It’s fun to see that kind of depth on the team. We have the No. 9 giving the No. 4 a good match, and, ultimately, that’s what it takes to win a national title or an Ivy title.”

If Harvard hopes to win its first national crown since 1998, the Crimson will have to go through a Trinity team that is currently riding the longest winning streak in the history of college athletics with a grand total of 244 straight wins, as well as a slew of traditional Ivy League rivals.

“We’re a lot stronger now than [we were] last year,” Power said. “Obviously we’d love to win an Ivy title and a national championship, and I think those goals are realistic, but we’re just focusing on doing better than we did last year. … We have very high hopes for this season.”

Last season, four of the Crimson’s top-nine players were freshmen. This year, youth will also be a factor, as the top-six players in the Harvard lineup will likely be underclassmen.

“Our sophomore class is probably the strongest in the nation,” Ahmed said. “It’s a team that will develop over the next three years … but as captain, I think we have enough depth to win [a national title] now.”

Although Harvard will face its toughest competition after winter break, the team refuses to overlook its early games.

“[The contest against the Ephs] is our first match—obviously you want to make sure everyone is at least fired up,” Ahmed said. “[Williams] is not ranked as one of the top teams, but they’re definitely a team that deserves respect, is well-coached, and comes to play.”

—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at ccoppinger@college.harvard.edu.

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