Sophomore Brandon McLaughlin and the No. 4 Crimson will try to capture a title that has gone to No. 1 Trinity for the past 13 years at the CSA Team Championships this weekend in Princeton, N.J., marking the squad’s last competition as a team for the 2011-2012 season.
The Potter Cup may be leaving Hartford, Conn. for the first time in 14 years—and its next stop might be Cambridge.
This weekend, the No. 4 Harvard men’s squash team (14-3, 5-2 Ivy) will contend for the Potter Cup, the highest prize in men’s college squash. This year’s College Squash Association Team Championships, held at Princeton, are expected be the most competitive in recent history. Despite its fifth place finish in 2010 and 2011, the Crimson is very much in the mix for the 2012 title.
"I think the national championship is in the picture," Harvard coach Mike Way said. "But if you fire that question at any coach, you’re going to hear every cliché known in sports. Our focus is on the match against Rochester on Friday."
The Crimson starts its run for the title on Friday against No. 5 Rochester (9-4, 5-0 Liberty League). Harvard’s team proved to be too much for Rochester to handle on Jan. 28, when it defeated the Yellowjackets, 7-2. But Harvard will be looking to use the match to rebound after a 5-4 loss at Yale on Saturday.
"We’re regrouping our guys after [the loss to Yale]," Way said. "We thought we had a good chance to beat them, but we didn’t. But we’re getting in the right mindset. We’ll put [our team] on the bus, and we’ll try to get the job done Friday. So we’re feeling pretty good."
If the Crimson can repeat its performance from its last contest with Rochester, it will move on to the semifinals of the national championship. There, Harvard is likely to face No. 1 Trinity College (16-1, 8-0 NESCAC), the Goliaths of the squash world.
The Bantams have hoisted the Potter Cup every year since 1998, for a grand total of 13 straight titles. Trinity had not lost a match in 252 outings until Jan. 18, when Yale upset the top-ranked Bantams, 5-4. Now that Trinity has shown signs of mortality, the championship race is wide open.
In a potential semifinal matchup, Harvard would be seeking redemption for its 7-2 loss to the Bantams earlier this year. As far as Way is concerned, this weekend is a different story.
"It’s the end of the season," Way explained. "You have some seniors who aren’t going to come back and experience [national championship weekend again], and this is what you’ve worked hard for all season to get a decent seeding. It’s the final test, three days and three hard matches…. On paper everyone has a chance to win."
Leading the way for the Crimson is sophomore Ali Farag, Harvard’s No. 1 player. Farag, the top-ranked junior player in the world, is undefeated on the year, but it will take a strong group of nine to win the three matches in three days. Ali will be contending for the individual championship in a couple of weeks, but this weekend he’s concentrating on bringing a team national championship to Cambridge.
When asked what it would take to accomplish that goal, he responded with one word: will.
"We are much more talented than any other team, and everyone in the league knows that," Farag said with confidence.
But Farag, who is competing in his first team championship for Harvard, said that it would take much more than talent to win the tournament.
"If you lose [in the first round], you can’t win anymore," Farag said. "We have to focus on everything, think of everything. Every point counts. We have to be at the top of our game."
Coach Way echoed his player’s sentiments.
"I think what’s happened with our team is that everyone knows we have a very talented lineup," Way said. "We haven’t had one match this season where everyone turned up on the same day, so the goal is to have that happen on the most important weekend of the season. We’ll see what happens."