The only game the Harvard men’s squash dropped to Dartmouth in its home opener at the Murr Center on Wednesday night was one that hit close to home for co-captain Jason Michas.
In an otherwise commanding performance, the No. 3 Crimson (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) swept every other match to win, 9-0, against the No. 8 Big Green (0-1, 0-1) in its first Ivy match of the season.
“It was our first Ivy League match; it was our first real match of the season,” Michas said. “We played some scrimmages, but this is a team that my freshman year we lost to in the scrimmage…. I personally wasn’t playing my best squash, but I was proud that everybody found a way to win.”
Michas, the No. 8 seed, played his former high school teammate James Fisch in the first round of matches. The Harvard senior jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, taking the first two games in a decisive fashion.
Fisch bounced back and stole the third game, and Michas struggled in the beginning of the fourth, falling to a 4-1 deficit early in the game. But the co-captain quickly rebounded, showing off his backhand and a handful of well-placed shots that put him in the lead, 8-7.
The two began a rough battle over the next few points, never letting the margin of difference extend past two, with the crowd enthusiastically applauding every point scored by the Ivy foes.
Michas refused to relinquish his lead throughout the tough play and eventually clinched the fourth game, 12-10, to win his match.
But for Michas, the win was unique because of his relationship to his opponent.
“It was actually a special match because the guy I was playing was from my high school, and I kind of got him into squash,” Michas said. “A long time ago, when I was a senior in high school, he was a freshman. It was great to see a kid who I helped get into the sport, and he’s improved so much since then on his own time.”
The rest of the match was all Crimson, as the rest of its top nine swept the Big Green in straight games. Harvard was led by its No. 1 seeded player, junior Ali Farag, who continued his impressive campaign from last year. In the 2011-12 season, Farag went undefeated, winning all 16 of his matches and receiving first team All-Ivy League honors.
“It’s a lot of pressure on me, actually, because everyone is expecting you to win,” Farag said. “Last year, I had nothing to lose, but this year, I have a lot on my shoulders. It’s both confidence and pressure [to win].”
Although Crimson coach Mike Way focused on other players who “needed” the coaches, he had no doubts that his best player would perform well against the first-seeded player from Dartmouth.
“I know that [Farag] probably put on his Cirque du Soleil performance, which he loves to do,” Way said. “He’s got a wand in his hand and the most beautiful hand, so without even watching, I can visualize exactly what he did.”
The Big Green’s top player, Chris Hanson, hung with Farag for a while, keeping the scores close, but the junior soon shook off his rust in his first match of the year to surpass Hanson in three games. But despite the win he wasn’t pleased with his play early on.
“It was the first game of the season, so it’s never easy,” Farag said. “I started [preparation] a little late, so I wasn’t really prepared for it since it was my first match since maybe March of last year. But then I picked up the pace, and I think I played well at the end.”
The newest members of Harvard squash, freshmen Matt Roberts and Sam Goldberg, also posted solid performances in their first Ivy match, each beating their respective Big Green opponents to win their first league matches.
Roberts, the No. 9 seed for the Crimson, played a nail-biter of a game, trailing his opponent, Mark Funk, 9-4, in the third. A 6-1 run by Roberts knotted the score at ten, and he made quick work of his Ivy competitor after that, taking the final game, 12-10.
“I think that the freshmen, Mattie Roberts and Sam Goldberg, came in and it was their first real test,” Way said. “Again, it’s such a test mentally, so we were very pleased with how both players performed. They both won, and it’s just going to set them up and the team up for when we go into the nuts and bolts of the season in January.”
Although the numbers showed a dominant victory for Harvard, Farag notes that the statistics don’t tell the entire story.
“To be honest, they’re good—better than I expected,” Farag said. “They’re playing well. Last year, it was easier, but now that I think that they’re playing well, I’m happy that we won all of our matches.”