Coming off a strong showing against Boston College in the MIT Round Robin, the Harvard women’s squash team (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) had no problem taking down conference rival Dartmouth (0-1, 0-1) Wednesday night at the Murr Center.
At No. 8 in the country, the Big Green was the first top-ranked opponent the Crimson faced this season.
“It’s the second match of the season, but the first test,” Coach Mike Way said. “It’s their first test mentally as well as on the court.”
Harvard’s top nine swept their matches in the first meeting against the Ivy foe.
“We were pretty excited today because it was our first Ivy League match,” co-captain Sarah Mumanachit said. “We’ve been training pretty hard since the day we got on campus, so it was exciting to start competition finally. Dartmouth is a pretty strong competitor to start our season off with. It was nice to see everyone putting everything they’d been working on to the test, really bringing it out, and improving on things.”
Mumanachit cruised to a 3-0 victory at the No. 6 spot. Fellow co-captain Natasha Kingshott followed suit and failed to drop a game in the No. 5 position.
The Crimson was anchored by the strong play of Laura Gemmell. After playing injured most of last year, the senior opened up her first match of the year in the No. 1 spot against the Big Green’s Corey Schafer. Schafer earned All-Ivy honors last season on the heels of strong play during her junior year.
“She’s always been a great player,” Gemmell said. “She moves really well. Last year, I was very injured. This is the first year that I’ve actually felt better, and I felt like I was moving well and my body didn’t hurt.”
Gemmell quickly picked up an 11-4 win in her first game, but she got off to a slower start in in the second and found herself down 4-1 to Schafer. The senior, however, rolled off four straight points on her way to an 11-8 victory in the second game and finished her opponent off with an easy 11-3 win to take the match.
“I thought I had control of the match,” Gemmell said. “I was hitting good length, and I was hitting good drops in the front. She’s a good player, and I thought I played really well.”
Harvard was without two of their regular starters in Wednesday night’s contest. Amanda Sobhy, usually the top player for the Crimson, and fellow sophomore Julianne Chu, who normally competes at No. 7, were both out for the match against the Big Green. The gaps in the lineup allowed younger players to gain valuable experience on the court.
“To get the girls at the bottom to come in and play some matches, even if it’s outside the top nine, to give them that experience [is great],” Way said. “When you’re missing [your starters], everyone is now playing up. At the bottom, people have tougher matches. They’ve got to carry themselves and go on with that maturity and not be fraught with nerves because they’re playing above where they normally might be.”
Gemmell’s younger sister Michelle was one of three freshmen to play in the top nine for Harvard, posting a 3-0 win at the No. 3 spot. Saumya Karki, who played No.1 last week against BC, picked up her win in straight games in the No. 4 spot, while fellow first-year Isabelle Dowling won her match at No. 8.
Allie Sperry, the fourth freshman on the team, picked up a win in the No. 14 court.
“We have a great group of [freshmen] girls,” Mumanachit said, “They are really meshing well with the team. We hope to see some really great things from them.”
Elsewhere on the court, No. 2 player Haley Mendez easily handled her opponent in her season debut, rolling to a 3-0 win. Fellow sophomore Meghan Murray was also a strong force for the Crimson in the No. 7 position, picking up a 3-2 win. Rounding out the top nine, senior Eliza Calihan posted a victory in the No. 9 spot with a 3-1 victory.
Even without a few core members of its lineup, Harvard seems primed for success this season as it prepares to face more highly-ranked Ivy foes. The Crimson has posted 9-0 victories in its first two competitive matches this season.
“I think we’re the team to beat,” Gemmell said. “Our team is extremely strong. For this match, we didn’t have our No. 1 and our No.7. But with them, I think we are the team to beat.”