The final match of the regular season for both the Harvard men’s and women’s squash teams could provide the year’s most excitement on the court.
On Sunday, both Crimson squash teams will head to Yale’s Brady SquashCenter for their final matchups until CSA Team Championships. The No. 4 Harvard men (13-2, 4-1 Ivy) will take on the top-ranked Bulldogs (12-1, 4-1 Ivy), while the No. 1 Crimson women (12-0, 5-0 Ivy) will battle No. 2 Yale (14-0, 5-0 Ivy).
“I would say, regular season, this is the single-most important match we’re going to play,” women’s co-captain Cece Cortes said.
This will not be the first time these two traditional rivals have met this year. Both the Harvard men and women came out victorious at Ivy League Scrimmages in November, but both are quick to point out that their preseason success is in no way an indication of a sure victory this Sunday.
“Ivy Scrimmages are good only because they’re a way for us to jump right into the season with the toughest teams and get some good match play,” Cortes said. “But in terms of predicting anything, they’re pretty inaccurate. It’s too tough to look at those scores and say whether or not they’re going to translate into a win for us this coming weekend.”
Crimson Coach Mike Way—who is currently at the helm of both the men’s and women’s teams—echoed Cortes’ sentiments.
“Some people see on paper that we are a stronger team,” Way said. “But that has its own set of problems like the expectations being too high…. It’s all about going down there and handling the challenge and the pressure on the day.”
For the Harvard women, the match -up against Yale is an opportunity for players to release some year-old frustration.
The Bulldogs bested the Crimson last year at the 2011 CSA Team Championships, 5-4, ending Harvard’s chances of securing its second straight national title. For returning members on the Crimson squad, the defeat is not easily forgotten.
“The loss to Yale last year was definitely disappointing,” Cortes said. “It was 5-4, super close, and I’d be lying if I said we don’t want to have some redemption.There’s definitely some Harvard-Yale rivalry.”
The Crimson men will also face a difficult challenge against Yale. The Bulldogs came up with one of the biggest upsets in both collegiate squash and collegiate sports this season, defeating Trinity College on Jan. 18th. The defeat was the first for the Trinity men’s team in 252 matches—the longest winning streak in varsity intercollegiate athletics.
But Yale’s momentum coming off the victory does not seem to phase Way.
“I think that win may have had an impact [on the Bulldog’s confidence]. [But] since then, there have been a couple of things that should be taken into consideration,” Way said. “We lost to Princeton, 5-4, and we actually thought we had a chance of winning that match [because] it was so close. And Princeton last week went out and hammered Yale, 8-1, so if Yale had a confidence boost after beating Trinity, I think that bubble probably has been popped a little bit.”
After the Harvard men’s team lost two straight matches to No. 2 Trinity and No. 3 Princeton, the Crimson bounced back with three consecutive wins, most recently this past weekend at then-No. 6 Cornell. Down 4-1, Harvard battled back to win, 5-4, in dramatic fashion.
Men’s co-captain Will Ahmed attributes his team’s recent success to a strong mental toughness that has been developing all season.
“Sometimes, you might take for granted how talented you are, and lose sight of some of the fitness levels and tough mental capacities [of other teams],” Ahmed said. “I think this recent match shows the kind of growth in [our] mental fortitude that has been so crucial all season.”
Two key Crimson players to watch this Sunday are No. 1 Amanda Sobhy for the women and No. 1 Ali Farag for the men. Both are favored to win the CSA Individual Championships in the spring, and both were unable to play in the preseason matchup against the Bulldogs.
And according to Way, all of the athletes are excited about the high-intensity atmosphere.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to go down and relish in the competition,” Way said.