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Championship Women's Squash Team Goes for Individual Glory

The Amanda Show
Emily C. Wong

The freshman wrapped up her undefeated year this weekend by sweeping through five opponents at the College Squash Association (CSA) Individual Championships, held at the Alumni Gymnasium in Amherst, Mass.

After its commanding 8-1 victory over Yale last weekend at the College Squash Association Team National Championships, the Harvard women’s squash team will send its top seven players to Amherst, Mass., for the CSA Individual Championships this weekend, as the top 32 collegiate players compete for the Ramsay Cup.

The Crimson is looking for its second individual national title in three years. In 2010, during her freshman campaign, junior Laura Gemmell completed an undefeated rookie season by taking home the individual title. The next season, in the final against Bulldog sophomore Millie Tomlinson, Gemmell suffered a surprising 3-0 defeat for her first collegiate loss.

This year’s championship is expected to have fewer unanticipated results, as Harvard freshman Amanda Sobhy enters as a heavy favorite.

Indeed, “heavy” may be an understatement, as the 2010 Junior World Champion has yet to drop a game in her collegiate career. During her streak, Sobhy has dominated every opponent’s No. 1 player, including 5 of the top 10 players in the country.

Her most impressive victory came last weekend at the Murr Center, when Sobhy handed reigning champion Tomlinson an 11-1, 11-3, 11-1 defeat. It was her second defeat of Tomlinson this season, as the freshman also recorded a 3-0 victory to help Harvard take the Ivy League Championship on Feb. 12.

The CSA Individual Championships provide a much different format than the regular season, and many of the Crimson players are relishing the chance to play for themselves while still maintaining the support of their Harvard teammates.

“It’s an exciting way to see all the work we have been putting in on the court in a different environment,” junior Natasha Kingshott said. “It’s more similar to the junior squash environment, where most of us grew up playing. So there are a little bit of nerves, but also excitement to play opponents I have not played before.”

The Crimson dominates the rankings going into the weekend, with three players currently in the country’s top 10. Sobhy enters as the No. 1 seed, with Gemmell behind her at No. 3, sandwiching Tomlinson at No. 2. Trinity’s Catalina Pelaez, just one of the All-Americans to fall to Sobhy earlier this year, enters as the fourth seed.

Harvard co-captain Nirasha Guruge hopes to finish her final season on a high-note; the senior will arrive in Amherst as the No. 10 seed. At the No. 3 spot for most of the season with the Crimson, Guruge registered a 14-1 record. Guruge’s first matchup is against Cornell’s Jesse Pacheco, whom she bested, 3-0, on Feb. 5.

The Crimson’s No. 4, Haley Mendez, will join Sobhy as the squad’s only other freshman representative. Mendez enjoyed an impressive 16-1 rookie season, leading the team in wins, including her match-clinching performances against both Yale and Princeton to preserve Harvard’s unblemished record. The freshman will take on Big Red No. 2 Jesse Laird in the first round of play.

“[Our freshmen] are incredible players. I think Haley will turn a lot of heads this weekend,” Crimson co-captain Cece Cortes said. “She plays a great game and has a great head on her shoulders.”

Cortes will enter her last collegiate tournament pitted against Bantam No. 2 Alicia Rodriguez. Cortes clinched the Howe Cup last weekend by winning the fifth match at the No. 5 position and finished the season ranked 21st.

No. 6 Kingshott faces a stiff challenge from Penn No. 1 Nabilla Ariffin. Ariffin, the Quaker’s junior captain, finished 2011 ranked 12th in the country. Kingshott, currently ranked 23rd, finished the season with a 12-2 record, including three 3-0 victories during the CSA Team Championships. The junior looks to carry her momentum into Amherst this weekend.

No. 7 Sarah Mumanachit, the only Harvard player other than Sobhy to maintain an undefeated record throughout the season, will test her perfect year against Yale sophomore Kim Hay. Hay gave the Crimson something of a shock in the Ancient Eight title decider, handing Gemmell her second collegiate loss in a 3-2 thriller. Gemmell avenged that loss last weekend, defeating Hay in three games, but Hay has shown the potential to beat the best.

With Harvard providing so many representatives, the weekend promises to be a valuable one for the team, especially if Sobhy can snag the crown.

“I think she’s definitely the favorite,” Kingshott said. “But she respects every single one of her opponents, and [Tomlinson] in particular…. There’s definitely a target on Amanda’s back, but she’s been in situations like this before and handled herself so gracefully. She takes pressure well.”

—Staff writer Peter G. Cornick can be reached at pcornick@college.harvard.edu.

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