As Penn threatened to erase Harvard’s early 3-0 lead, senior Laura Gemmell faced a 2-1 game deficit at the No. 2 position. But the Crimson senior rallied with a hard-fought 11-9 victory in the fourth game and a commanding 11-4 win in the fifth to place Harvard firmly in control of the team match with its fourth point of the day.
Thanks to Gemmell’s performance, the No. 1 Crimson women’s squash team won its most challenging match yet this season against the No. 5 Quakers, 6-3, Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. Harvard (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) yielded its first individual matches of the season but managed to hand Penn (4-1, 0-1 Ivy) its first loss.
“As a team, we’ve been looking to this match for the last couple of months,” co-captain Natasha Kinshott said. “We all really rose to the occasion.”
Harvard swept the first wave of individual matches at the No. 3, No. 6 and No. 9 positions.
At the No. 3 position, sophomore Haley Mendez secured Harvard’s first of two five-game victories. Mendez earned consecutive 11-4 wins in her fourth and fifth games to deliver a 3-2 win over Penn’s Rachael Goh, 7-11, 12-10, 2-11, 11-4, 11-4.
At No. 6, Kingshott earned a clean decision over the Quakers’ Yarden Odinak, winning in straight games, 11-2, 11-7, 11-9. The senior entered the match with something extra to prove.
“I’ve played [Odinak] since I was playing in my junior circuit, so I know her game very well.” Kingshott said. “I hadn’t beaten her in a couple of years, so I was really motivated and focused on this match in particular because of the history.”
Sophomore Julianne Chu also went wire-to-wire for Harvard, defeating freshman Alisa Agnew in straight sets, 11-8, 11-7, 11-8, at the No. 9 position.
Penn responded with a pair of four-game victories over Harvard freshmen in the next wave of matches. At the No. 5 position, Quaker senior Pia Trikha defeated Saumya Karki, 8-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-5, and Penn freshman Camille Lanier defeated Isabelle Dowling, 11-6, 8-11, 13-11, 11-4, at No. 8.
“I’m really proud of the freshmen in particular,” Kingshott said. “Even though the scores of their particular matches may not reflect their results, they fought so hard.”
Harvard’s third loss of the day also involved two first-year players. Crimson freshman Michelle Gemmell climbed out of a 2-0 hole to force a fifth game but fell to Quaker freshman Haidi Lala, 11-5, 11-9, 12-14, 9-11, 11-4.
“[Michelle] played well; she had a tough match,” Laura Gemmell said of her younger sister. “I think she is going to build on this tomorrow [versus Princeton].”
Harvard sealed the match with a pair of come-from-behind wins at No. 2 and No. 7.
Laura Gemmell took freshman Yan Xin to five games at the No. 2 position to earn the Crimson’s fourth point of the match, 9-11, 11-5, 6-11, 11-9, 11-4.
“Laura dug really deep,” Kingshott said. “You could see that she was really fired up.”
“I had beaten [Xin] in October, but I knew she was going to be a very strong opponent,” Gemmell added. “I was really happy with the way I played. I kind of just grit it out and tried to return as many volleys as possible.”
At the No. 7 position, co-captain Sarah Mumanachit spotted Penn’s Courntey Jones a game but took control in the next three to produce the clinching fifth point, 8-11, 11-6, 11-9, 11-5.
“[Mumanachit] really hustled and never gave up,” Kingshott said. “It was just so gratifying that the two other seniors—Laura and Sarah—got the two victories for us that clinched the win.”
The day concluded with a drama-free match at No. 1 as sophomore Amanda Sobhy rolled over Penn’s Nabilla Ariffin. The reigning individual national champion cruised, 11-3, 11-4, 11-3, to record Harvard’s sixth and final point of the day.
—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at email@example.com