Brandon McLaughlin is one of four Crimson juniors who are expected to lead the team this season. Along with 2011-2012 Ivy League Player of the Year Ali Farag, McLaughlin is one of the team’s returning All-American players. Harvard opens up the 2012-2013 campaign on Friday against BC.
After capturing the No. 3 spot at the CSA Team Championships with a 5-4 win over Ivy competitor Cornell in the spring, the Crimson men’s squash team has even higher hopes for the 2012-13 campaign. Led by what is arguably the best junior class in the nation, Harvard will look to build on the team’s highest finish since 2007 and capture its first CSA national championship in 14 years.
“We learned a lot last season and over the summer, and everyone came back a much more mature player,” said sophomore Nick Hopcroft, who played at the No. 4 spot in last year’s final team match. “We look strong. Our goals remain the same as last year. We’re just hoping we do a better job of getting there.”
The 2011-12 Crimson squad featured a young lineup, with five sophomores and two freshmen playing in scoring matches. And despite losing one senior—former co-captain Will Ahmed—to graduation after the campaign, Harvard returns its entire top nine from last season.
“We hope that there’ll be that little bit of extra maturity or experience from last year,” Harvard coach Mike Way said. “If [the players are] all better versions of themselves from a year ago, we’ll be very good. What we look for is a little bit more experience and maturity, which manifests itself in may ways.”
Included in this season’s more veteran lineup is junior and defending CSA Individual Champion Ali Farag. The Egyptian transfer student was quick to adjust to his role at the No. 1 spot for Harvard, finishing his rookie campaign with a perfect 16-0 record. Farag took down then-defending national champion Todd Harrity, and earned Ivy League Player of the Year and co-Rookie of the Year honors last season.
Farag and classmate Brandon McLaughlin were both named All-Americans after playing most of the season in the Crimson’s top two spots. Juniors Gary Power and Nigel Koh round out the current top four spots in the lineup.
“The junior class is unbelievably strong,” Way said. “They make up our top four positions on the team.... They’re not captains—though I imagine some of them may be captains next year—but we will look to them in part for some leadership.”
Standing in Harvard’s way if the team hopes to claim a national title will likely be last year’s CSA champions and runners-up, No. 1 Princeton and No. 2 Trinity, along with the traditionally strong Rochester, Yale, and Cornell.
“My feeling is that we will be in contention [for the national title], but that’s as far as I’m willing to go,” Way said.
After a 30-year drought in national titles, the Tigers took down the 13-time defending national champion Bantams, 5-4, in the finals to claim their first national championship since 1982.
Harvard faced its first test last week at Ivy Scrimmages, an annual tournament that pits perennially strong Ancient Eight teams against each other for preseason bragging rights. The Crimson came away with the title this year, as sophomore Tyler Olson, who is also a Crimson business editor, secured the final match in a 5-4 victory in the finals.
“[Olson] managed to win a nail biting match at Yale,” Hopcroft said. “It was unbelievable for us…. He’s someone who has really improved his game. He was one of our most consistent players last year, but he’s gotten even stronger this year.”
The victory pushed the Crimson to its second straight team win at Ivy Scrimmages. And according to Harvard players, this success bodes well for the upcoming season.
“[Winning] Ivy Scrimmages…puts us in a good [position] at the beginning of the year,” Hopcroft said. “It gives us the foundation for a good chance to win Ivies and nationals.”
The Crimson officially begins the 2012-13 campaign on Friday at the MIT Round-Robin Tournament, where Harvard is pitted against crosstown rival Boston College.