In its first match of the season, the Harvard men’s squash team (1-0) defeated Boston College, 9-0, on Friday at the MIT Round Robin Tournament. Although the team did not play any of its top nine players against the No. 33 Eagles, the Crimson dropped only one of 28 games on the day.
The Crimson features two returning first-team All-Americans in juniors Brandon McLaughlin and Ali Farag, who is both the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and singles national champion. But neither played on Friday against Boston College as the team elected to sit starters from last year’s team, using five sophomores and two freshmen in their stead.
“I was happy with how I played,” freshman Jake Matthews said. “I was nervous because it was my first time playing, but I think I played well. It’s incredibly exciting to play in the college game. It’s more competitive than the high school game but it’s also a lot more fun.”
Matthews, who played at the No. 5 position, defeated Boston College’s Max Ortwein, 11-3, 11-5, 11-6, as part of a Harvard lineup that won 21 games without losing more than five points.
In the closest match of the nine, sophomore James Watkins, playing at no. 3, won the first two games against Sam Henderson before dropping the third, 11-8, and rebounding to take the fourth, 11-4.
The match was the first of the regular season for the Crimson, which last week won the preseason Ivy League Scrimmages for the second straight year. In the tournament, the team defeated Yale in the finals with a 5-4 win, anchored by a clinching victory by sophomore Tyler Olson, who is also a Crimson editor.
The victory marked the second in a row for Harvard at Ivy Scrimmages. The Crimson finished third in the Collegiate Squash Association team championships last year, and was ranked third in the preseason by the CSA—behind last year’s national champion, Princeton, and runner-up, Trinity.
“We’re going to be in contention for the Ivy title, and therefore we’ll be in contention for the national title this year,” coach Mike Way said. “The team finished third last year and the goal has to be to do better than that this year. There are a couple of very strong teams out there this year, and we’ll see what happens.”
Harvard has not won the CSA national championship in fourteen years and will likely have to best preseason No. 1 Princeton if it is going to change that.
The Tigers snapped a thirty-year long title drought last year with a 5-4 victory in the title game against CSA preseason No. 2 Trinity, which had won the previous 13 national championships.
The Crimson returns five seniors this year and eight of nine players from last year’s squad that took third place.
“We are basically the same team as last year,” Way said. “If our team played the team of last year right now, I think that we’d beat them nine-zip. Even right now, the coaches think that there has been a shift for the better and that we have a much more resilient group. We’re going to be fitter this year but overall we’ve seen the improvements they’ve made to take our team to the next level.”
With a young team—none of the squad’s five seniors are among the top four—Way said confidence will be key against higher-ranked teams like the Bantams and Tigers.
“A key for this season will be the level of belief they have in their ability,” Way said. “They’re as good as the other guys out there across the board, and it’s important to go in there with that level of confidence. When they come in with that, young athletes learn how to step up and believe that they can win. They have a good game and they have good fitness, now the key will just be bringing it all together.”
Friday’s victory marked the 35th win in a row for Harvard in its season opener.