The No. 3 Harvard men’s squash team survived its first major test of the season on Saturday, topping No. 6 Rochester, 5-4, at the Yellow Jackets’ Lyman Squash and Racquetball Center in Rochester, N.Y.
Crimson B and C lineups also picked up two additional wins for Harvard, defeating No. 29 Tufts (4-2, 0-1 NESCAC) and No. 40 UC Berkeley by 9-0 scores in the Boston Round Robin at the Murr Center Saturday.
With two matches left, Rochester (4-1, 4-0 Liberty) had cut a three-match deficit to one. But junior Ali Farag, the reigning individual national champion, emphatically ended any comeback bid, sweeping College Squash Association No. 6 Andres Duany in straight games, 11-7, 11-6, 11-1, to clinch a Crimson victory.
“The funny thing is, when you’ve got a player like Ali Farag, we all know he can win—we all know that he is going to win,” Harvard coach Mike Way said. “The whole team, we go into a match, and we’ve already got one match in the bag. We shouldn’t be thinking that, but it’s hard not to when we see how brilliant he is.”
With the win, Farag improved his career individual collegiate record to 18-0.
Freshman Matt Roberts struck first for Harvard (5-0, 1-0 Ivy) at the No.9 position, defeating William Mohr in four games, 12-10, 11-7, 5-11, 11-9.
The Yellow Jackets stung back with a win of their own as Rochester’s Faraz Khan edged junior Gary Powers, 10-12, 12-10, 12-10, 11-9, in the No. 3 match, but the Crimson then proceeded to mount a three-match run.
At the No. 6 position, sophomore Tom Mullaney dropped the first game but swept the next three to snatch a point from Juan Pablo Gaviria, 9-11, 11-5, 11-4, 11-6.
Harvard also spotted its opponents a game before earning come-from-behind victories at the No. 8 and No.2 positions. Co-captain Jason Michas defeated Xiaomen Meng, 6-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-3, before junior Brandon McLaughlin topped Neil Cordell, 9-11, 11-5, 11-8, 11-1.
“I would call that ‘depth of concentration,’” Way said of the three comebacks. “[Mullaney] just wasn’t playing his own game actually, and then once he got going he knew exactly what to do and just stuck with his guns.”
Michas also made key adjustments to earn a victory for the Crimson.
“[Michas] really changed his strategy [between games],” fellow co-captain Zeke Scherl said. “As an attritional player, he did not just rely on keeping with [Meng] and responding to his attacks on court but [also] implemented his own game and really put [Meng] under pressure. I thought that he played some of his best that I’ve seen him play in a really long time.”
Way was particularly impressed with McLaughlin’s performance.
“He played the best squash that we’ve seen him play in two years,” Way said. “He really just dug deep and found a whole new level of confidence and belief in himself.”
Rochester responded to the 4-1 deficit with a two-match rally at the No. 5 and No. 7 positions. The Yellow Jackets’ Oscar Lopez defeated junior Nigel Koh in four games, 12-10, 5-11, 11-5, 11-7, while teammate Karm Kumar bested Scherl in three, 11-5, 11-9, 11-7.
But despite Rochester’s run, Farag sealed the win in the penultimate match over Duany.
“Duany is a very, very strong player, one of the best in the college scene by far, yet Ali is so much stronger in every department that it’s really remarkable,” Way said. “It’s hard as a coach not to take it for granted.”
Sophomore Tyler Olson closed out the day for Harvard with a four-game loss to Adam Perkiomaki, 11-6, 11-6, 9-11, 11-7.
Earlier Saturday, the Crimson cruised through the Boston Round Robin at the Murr Center as other members of the Harvard’s squad swept to 9-0 victories over Tufts and UC Berkeley. Way was pleased with his team’s display of depth.
“We [coaches] may have been up in Rochester, but the phone was ringing off the hook as each match went down,” Way said. “For those guys to sweep those two, you can imagine how it feels.... It’s so good for those guys further down in order to represent themselves the way they did and carry the banner for Harvard, and the way they did it is just fantastic.”