Following their first loss of the season, the No. 3 Harvard men’s squash team (10-1, 2-1 Ivy) was able to rebound at the Pioneer Round Robin Tournament in Amherst and take down the No. 13 University of Western Ontario (11-3) and No. 23 Amherst College (5-7) on Saturday.
HARVARD 9, AMHERST 0
In its second match of the day, Harvard defeated Amherst, 9-0. Coach Mike Way gave reigning national champion junior Ali Farag a rest against Amherst, sliding line two player junior Brandon McLaughlin and line three player junior Gary Power up a slot.
McLaughlin defeated Amherst’s No. 1, Noah Browne, in straight sets, and only gave up 12 points. Power similarly won without dropping a set, defeating David Kerr 11-7, 11-8, 11-7. Harvard took the first seven lines without dropping a set, the closest set being an 11-9 third set victory by freshman Matt Roberts. Roberts played in the No. 9 position in the earlier match against Western Ontario but played line four against Amherst as five of the top nine Crimson players sat the afternoon match.
“The JV has had less experience so there is usually a little more nervous energy,” Way said. “The seasoned varsity athletes have grown up in the juniors and they have played tons and tons of matches so the JV tends to get a little more anxious.”
At the bottom of the lineup, freshman Jake Matthews won a five-set match over Amherst’s Rodrigo Quan in the eighth spot and freshman Peter Janulis came back after losing the first set, 11-7, to Kelvin Chen, and won the next three sets. Matthews won the first set, 11-7, before dropping the second, 10-12. He recovered to win the third, and dropped the fourth before taking the final set 11-5.
“I try to block out outside thoughts and focus on the only two teams and take it from there,” Matthews said. “[I] see how the game develops and work from there.”
Way said that the team has developed well over the course of the season and has bought in to the philosophies of the coaching staff and the direction that they are looking for the team to take in a year where the team has national championship aspirations.
“I just think that we have a happy squad,” Way said. “To have a happy athlete means that he likes the coaching and the program and it makes sense. Then they begin to understand what we are about as coaches, how we are trying to direct them, and what we are trying to do with their game. They understand we believe in them but some young athletes at places like Harvard are opinionated and sometimes you need maturity so that they see the bigger picture in their own individual development and the direction that the coaches want to take the team.”
HARVARD 8, WESTERN ONTARIO 1
On the heels of a disappointing show at Princeton that saw the Crimson fall to the Tigers, 5-4, redemption was a theme for many players.
“Some of the players had to redeem themselves,” Way said. “There wasn’t much to be said. The guys that didn’t perform at Princeton knew exactly who they were and this week was a terrific practice week for us.”
During the day opener, Harvard players blanked their Mustang opponents in five of the nine matches. Playing at his usual No. 1 position, Farag played a close first game against Albert Shoihet, 11-9, but responded by taking the next two, 11-5 and 11-6, respectively.
Additional straight-set victories came from No. 2 McLaughlin, No. 3 Power, No. 5 junior Nigel Koh, and No. 7 senior Zeke Scherl.
Sophomore Tyler Olson, playing at the No. 4 spot, was the only Crimson player to fall during the day. Olson was edged by Western Ontario’s Yeshale Chetty in four sets, 3-1. Each game was decided by just a two point margin.
No. 8 senior Jason Michas and No. 9 freshman Matt Roberts both fought through five games to defeat their respective foes. Roberts won the first game, 12-10, before dropping the next two, 9-11, and finally staging a comeback in which he beat Kale Wilson, 11-5 and 11-6, in the final two games.
Michas beat Adam Engel in a thriller during which the third and fourth sets saw each player lose 11-3. In the final game, the two players grappled for a win and Michas prevailed, 19-17.
“The standout has been Jason Michas, who won 19-17 in his final set,” Way said. “With a bad back and a sore knee... the win was actually critical because at that juncture we had a bunch of matches tied up. At that moment the chips were down and he led from the front as a captain.”