With the Harvard men’s squash team knotted up with Princeton, 4-4, in the national semifinals, junior Gary Power stepped onto the court with his team’s hopes on his back.
After losing to the Tigers, 4-5, the last time the two teams faced off, the Crimson had four players who lost in the last matchup score victories for the team on Saturday. However, when junior Ali Farag dropped the first match of his collegiate career at No. 1 and Power quickly fell behind, 2-0, in his match, the Crimson was 11 points from defeat.
But Power rose to the occasion for Harvard, rallying to win the final three sets, and catapult his team into the tournament finals.
“I’ve only been here three seasons but that was the biggest moment I’ve ever seen,” Crimson coach Mike Way said. “That moment will never be forgotten. Farag had taken a big loss and our captain was out with an injury, and so at that time we were not looking good at all. For [Power] to come out and do what he did was absolutely heroic.”
Power said that with so many people watching the match—he was the team’s final match on Saturday—he narrowed his focus on the court in front of him and blocked out outside distractions.
“I was just trying to get back and push us into the final,” Power said. “With so many other people riding on it, I was keeping my head in the game and trying to focus on making shots. That helped more than anything else.”
Way said that even when Power fell down two sets, he was confident in the junior’s ability to come back. The coach said that Power’s fitness and mental fortitude was key in the victories in the final three sets, and that the moment he got down, he told the other coaches that all Power needed was to take one set to get back into the match.
“He’s probably the fittest guy in college squash,” Way said. “There’s nobody more determined, and if you put determination in a beast like that, you’re going to get something quite awesome. You have to have intense concentration to do it for that long, many rallies are 60 to 80 shots and the concentration has to be there.”
Freshman Jake Matthews said that Power has been an inspiration to him in his first season on the team, demonstrating diligence off the court and inspiring confidence on it.
“Gary’s the kind of kid that you know will always push you and you know he will never give up,” Matthews said. “He’s a leader and a role model on the team. He has exceptional work ethic and determination and he’s the kind of guy you always want playing in the last match that you can count on to pull through.”
Although Power, who used to play No. 1 for the team, has slipped down the ladder to play No. 4, Way said that the junior has done a terrific job in reshaping and improving his game over the past two seasons.
“He’s been working on trying to change some aspects of his games and he has been changing it to get a bit more tactical,” Way said. “He has had a tough season [but] the basic structure of his game has improved a lot. He’s a very determined guy and a very hard working guy. He’s really paid some attention to detail and he’s gotten better and better.”
Looking to next year, the team will graduate both co-captains Jason Michas, who was injured during the national championships, and Zeke Scherl. The team has improved its finish in each of the last three years, going from fifth in 2010 to third in 2011 to national runners-up in 2012. Farag said he felt confident about the team’s status for next year.
“I think nobody will want to play against us [next year],” Farag said. “I know how hard it will be, knowing that the captains will graduate. We are getting some good recruits, however, and we were much more professional this year and we will be much better and more professional next year.”
—Staff writer David P. Freed can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dpfreed.