With her team up, 4-2, against No. 4 Trinity through the first two rotations, sophomore Amanda Sobhy took center stage at the Brady Squash Courts in New Haven, Conn. The No. 2 Harvard women’s squash team (15-1, 6-1 Ivy) was just one win away from successfully defending its national title.
It was the second time that Sobhy and her opponent, Kanzy El Defraway of the Bantams, had faced off this season. Though Sobhy bested her opponent, 3-1, when they first met just over a week ago, El Defraway handed the sophomore the first game loss of her collegiate career in that early February meeting.
This time around, Sobhy wasted little time, stringing together 11-8, 11-7, and 11-8 wins to pick up the victory and seal the national title for the Crimson.
“Amanda has been a perennial force at No. 1,” co-captain Natasha Kingshott said. “She clinched the fifth match for us. It did come down to the end, but we had total confidence in her play there.”
Harvard ended the tournament with a 5-4 win over Trinity to take home the Howe Cup for the third time in the past four years and 14th time in program history.
“It was a really tough weekend, both mentally and physically,” Kingshott said. “But this day, for every individual player, whether they won or lost, was just the culmination of a whole season’s worth of hard work and dedication.... We’ve had some bumps along the road, but we’ve proven ourselves to be a resilient team. I really think we played our best squash today.”
The Crimson began its title defense campaign with a 9-0 rout of No. 7 Stanford on Friday in the quarterfinal match.
Harvard had a much closer contest in the semifinals, when the Crimson took on No. 3 Penn in a Saturday afternoon showdown. The match was tied, 3-3, after the first two rotations of players. But Harvard pulled away for a 6-3 victory with wins in the final three matches. Freshman Michelle Gemmell pulled out a 3-2 win in the No. 4 slot, Sobhy picked up a 3-0 victory at No. 1, and co-captain Sarah Mumanachit beat her opponent, 3-1, at No. 7.
The win over the Quakers pitted the Crimson against the Bantams in the finals after Trinity upset No. 1 Princeton in Saturday’s other semifinal contest.
“The whole weekend has really been a roller coaster,” Mumanachit said. “We were really hyped to play Princeton hopefully, since we wanted to avenge our loss earlier this season. But we were happy to play Trinity in the finals. They are really good competitors. It was really close and exciting.”
In Harvard’s first meeting with the Bantams this season, the Crimson came away with a comfortable 7-2 victory.
“There was a little bit of pressure, since we had a convincing win over them last week, but we knew they were underdogs and ready to challenge us,” Kingshott said. “I think we took it in stride. Throughout the season, we’ve shown that we can handle the pressure.”
Harvard jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on Sunday, as sophomore Haley Mendez, Kingshott, and sophomore Megan Murray picked up wins in the No. 3, No. 6, and No. 9 positions, respectively. But the Bantams would go on to win two of the next three matches in the second flight. Playing at No. 8, Julianne Chu lost her match in three straight games, while senior Laura Gemmell suffered her second loss of the season by the same margin at No. 2. Freshman Saumya Karki picked up the lone win for the Crimson in the round with a 3-0 win at No. 5.
“We took the early lead, which was really great for our confidence,” Kingshott said. “[But] Trinity is a really formidable opponent. They were hungry for this win as well, and so they came out firing in the next couple rounds.”
Though Michelle Gemmell and Mumanachit suffered losses in the No. 4 and No. 7 positions, respectively, Sobhy’s 3-0 win gave Harvard the edge and clinched the national title for the Crimson.
“It hasn’t even really set in,” Kingshott said. “I’m just so proud of everyone. When you put in so much work as an individual, and you see all the work your teammates put in, to see it all come together is one of the most gratifying experiences. We couldn’t have ended it in a better way.”
—Staff writer Brenna R. Nelsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CrimsonBRN.