When freshmen athletes take on collegiate competition for the first time, a nervous performance is understandable.
But rookie Amanda Sobhy’s first collegiate match was nothing less than dominant, as the 2010 Junior World Champion led the top-ranked Harvard women’s squash team (8-0, 2-0 Ivy) from the No. 1 spot to a 7-2 victory over No. 3 Penn (2-1, 1-1) at the Murr Center.
Due to eligibility concerns with her participation in professional tournaments, Sobhy was required by the Ivy League to sit out for the first 30 percent of Harvard’s regular season games. The same restrictions were placed on sophomore Ali Farag, the male 2010 Junior World Champion, who also made his debut for the men’s team on Saturday.
After watching her team begin the season undefeated without her, the Sea Cliff, N.Y.native was itching to help her team.
“It was good just to be on [the court], and I had a lot of energy to finally be able to play and be a part of the team,” Sobhy said.
The freshman took on Quaker captain junior Nabilla Ariffin, who finished the 2011 season ranked 12th in the country. Sobhy downed Ariffin in straight games (11-5, 11-1, 11-0).
“Amanda plays squash at such a high level,” co-captain Nirasha Guruge said. “It was great to see her wearing the Harvard clothes and representing our team today. It made our team very happy.”
With Sobhy now in the lineup, the freshman class now boasts three members playing in the top nine.
Haley Mendez, playing at the No. 4 position, came into the match leading the team with seven wins. But the freshman dropped her first collegiate match against junior Pia Trinkha in four games, while classmate Julianne Chu extended her unbeaten rookie season in a comfortable victory over freshman Leslie Gill at the No. 8 spot.
Megan Murray, a freshman playing outside the top nine, defeated sophomore Hyland Murphy in straight games. Although her result did not count towards the team’s total, Murray’s performance capped a strong day for the team’s rookies.
“On and off court, [the freshmen] are awesome and have really changed the team dynamic this season,” Guruge said.
Junior Laura Gemmell, playing in the No. 2 position, took on junior All-American Rachel Goh, who finished 10th at the 2011 CSA Championship. Gemmell dominated early, taking the first game, 11-3. Goh fought back to take the second, 12-10, but Gemmell would take over and win the next two games, improving to 4-0 on the season.
Guruge played the closest match of the day at the No. 3 spot. The senior got off to a flying start against junior Yarden Odinak, winning the first game, 11-2. But Odinak, who took 22nd at the CSA Championships last season, would fight back and win two consecutive close games to take the 2-1 lead. And the fourth game proved even tighter, as Guruge won a tiebreaker after being down match ball, prevailing 12-10.
That was as close as Odinak would get, as Guruge would take the decisive fifth game comfortably, 11-6. The victory preserved Guruge’s undefeated season, and her record now stands at 6-0.
“I think I’m a different player this year because I know my college career is coming to an end,” said Guruge about her close match. “I’ve made a lot of changes to my game … but I also think it’s important to keep your calm and stick to your basics.”