After a strong start to the new year with a win against Bates, the No. 1 Harvard women’s squash team (4-0, 1-0 Ivy) will hit the road to face its toughest tests of the season yet.
The Crimson will travel to take on No. 5 Penn (4-0, 0-0 Ivy) and No. 4 Princeton (3-0, 0-0 Ivy) in a pair of weekend match-ups. The meetings will mark the first time Harvard has competed against a top-five opponent all season.
“We’ve been looking towards this weekend for weeks now,” co-captain Natasha Kingshott said. “[It’s] probably one of our biggest weekends of the season. The Bates match was really important for us to test ourselves after the holiday break.”
The Crimson had a month-long break over the holidays before heading back to campus earlier this week. Wednesday night’s match against Bates provided an opportunity to shake off any rust in preparation for this weekend’s tough test against conference foes.
“We really just wanted to get back,” Kingshott said. “There’s a difference between drilling, training, and practice, and then really putting yourself on the court in an intense match situation.”
Harvard enters this weekend’s competition with a perfect start to the season intact, having not dropped a single game in any of its top-nine matches.
But the Quakers and the Tigers boast equally spotless records. Both teams have also picked up 9-0 wins against all of their opponents thus far this season.
“Penn and Princeton are two pretty tough competitors,” co-captain Sarah Mumanachit said. “They have really good players in their lineup. It should definitely be a good test, but we are definitely up for the challenge.”
The Crimson edged out both opponents in last year’s match ups, first taking down the Quakers, 7-2. The Tigers proved to be one of the toughest tests of the season, and Harvard squeaked by with a 5-4 victory.
In this season’s go around, the Crimson will look to Amanda Sobhy for a strong start at the number one position. The sophomore made her season debut this week against Bates after being sidelined by injury in the first matches of the year.
Sobhy will face a familiar foe in Julie Cerullo of Princeton. The senior, a first-team All-American, lost to Sobhy in the semifinals of last year’s individual championships. Sobhy went on to win the national title.
But despite Sobhy’s return, Harvard may still have a few of its key players noticeably absent from the court this weekend. Senior Laura Gemmell, a CSA first team All-American, was forced to sit out Wednesday night’s match up and rest an injury. Gemmell started the year with a perfect 2-0 record in the number one slot. Sophomore Julianne Chu has also been sidelined for the first part of the year, but Kingshott says she hopes to make her way back into the lineup soon.
“It’s tough whenever you have such a long season,” Kinghsott said. “Now that we’re in the most intense part, bodies tend to wear down. It’s difficult at this time of the year to balance intense training to push ourselves but [at the same time] not going over the limit.”
The Crimson has been hard at work this past week preparing to face stiff conference competition. Without the usual distractions of schoolwork, the break offers the opportunity to get in some quality practice.
“We came back at the beginning of this week and really hit the ground running with two-a-day practices,” Mumanachit said. “We’re really excited to go on the road this weekend.”
This weekend’s road matches will offer the first glimpse of how Harvard stacks up against some top-tier talent. With both Penn and Princeton vying for the Ivy title, this weekend has the potential to make a defining mark on an already impressive year.
“I think we’ve done incredibly well [so far],” Kingshott said. “It’s a long season, but the spirit everyday at practice is really great. We’re relishing in the fact that, right now, we are about to face some of our toughest opponents. We’re excited for it. This is the arena that we look for, to really push ourselves and see how we measure up against the very best.”
--Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org