The last time that the Harvard men’s squash team won a match against Princeton, George W. Bush had just been inaugurated into his second term as President. But the year that Bush’s successor was inaugurated into his second term of office would not be the one to break the skid.
It seemed like a repeat of 2011 as the Tigers (6-0, 2-0 Ivy) once again upset the Crimson’s previously unblemished record in heartbreaking fashion.
Mere hours after the Harvard women fell to a similar fate, the reigning Ivy League and CSA National Champions eked out a win over the Crimson (8-1, 2-1 Ivy) at the Jadwin Squash Courts on Sunday, 5-4, the same score by which Princeton topped Harvard the year before.
“They’re a team that shows up on the day consistently,” co-captain Zeke Scherl said. “You think that even when some of their players are people who you would beat on paper, they show up, and some of our guys didn’t have the most solid performances. Today was a really individual incident, where it really came down to the wire, and two points could have gone the other way, and we would have had the match.”
Down 4-3, the Crimson sent its No. 2 player, junior Brandon McLaughlin, onto the court to face his counterpart on the Tigers, Samuel Kang. Kang easily won the first two games, 11-5 and 11-6, and looked to take the third game as well, but McLaughlin’s foe couldn’t convert on five match balls and dropped the third game, 12-14.
McLaughlin and Kang fought two more hotly contested games, with McLaughlin taking the fourth to tie the match before losing the final game, 11-9, to give Princeton its eighth consecutive victory over Harvard.
“[McLaughlin] got down against [Kang], and he gritted his teeth and fought back—it’s how he operates,” Scherl said. “He’s always been a fighter, but unfortunately it got down to the last couple of points when he buckled down and fell to the guy.”
While the drama unfolded on the No. 2 court, the Crimson’s top-ranked player and reigning CSA national champion, junior Ali Farag, took on a former national champion in the Tigers’ Todd Harrity. Harrity took the first game, 11-5, before Farag bounced back to win three consecutive and take the match, 3-1.
“At first I didn’t play well because I was nervous from watching the number two, Brandon McLaughlin,” Farag said. “But after that, I talked to my coach, and he told me to just forget about the other match and get the job done, and I think from there, I played just fine.”
With the win, Farag remains undefeated, both against Harrity, whom he topped, 3-2, in last year’s matchup, and in his collegiate career.
“I thought [Ali] played unbelievable squash with a lot of pressure on him at the end,” Scherl said. “He’s always expected to win, but playing Todd Harrity who’s an incredible player, never easy to beat, I thought even after having gone down the first game, he composed himself well and got himself together and played beautiful squash to win that.”
The Tigers jumped out to an early lead, taking the first two matches of the day. Freshman Matt Roberts went down in straight games at the No. 9 position, while No. 3 Gary Power took the first game before dropping the next three to his opponent.
Harvard responded, as sixth-seeded junior Tommy Mullaney and eighth-seeded co-captain Jason Michas both bested their opponents in straight games to knot the score at two apiece.
“I thought Tommy Mullaney and Jason Michas posted incredible showings today getting on and off court, really executing their game plans and taking it to their opponents,” Scherl said. “I saw Tommy just dominate his opponent. The kid never had a chance.”
Losses at the fourth and fifth spots gave Princeton the lead back before Scherl defeated his opponent at No. 7 to bring it to 4-3. Farag noted that some of the Crimson’s struggles stemmed from the conditions of the court, which made it difficult for the visitors to find their rhythm.
“I think the fact that they were playing at home made a huge difference,” Farag said. “Their courts were really bouncy and really hard, so a lot of our players struggled with that. It’s hard to finish the ball on these courts.”
Despite the track record that the team holds against the Tigers, Scherl remains optimistic about the next meeting between the two.
“Coming off the match, we’ll do what we always do,” Scherl said. “We’ll pick up the little things and keep working, and I think Princeton should be afraid the next time that they see us.”
—Staff writer Samantha Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.