After its last match against Ancient Eight competition ended in its first loss since the end of the 2011 season, other Ivy League opponents could have smelled blood in the water facing the No. 2 Harvard women’s squash team. But the Crimson responded to its competition by putting on two inspired performances this weekend, rolling both Empire State rivals Columbia and No. 6 Cornell, 9-0.
Harvard (9-1, 4-1 Ivy) was expected to have little trouble with the Lions Saturday afternoon, as Columbia is in its second season as a varsity program. On the other hand, the Big Red came to Cambridge with plans of snagging an upset against the 2012 CSA national champions. But after a sweep of the first round of matches, led by co-captain Natasha Kingshott, the win never looked in doubt for the hosts.
“Cornell is one of the strongest teams in the Ivy League, and…we knew this would be a tough match and a test to see how far we’ve come since J-Term and the tough loss to Princeton,” Kingshott said. “[With] a 9-0 sweep, I think the match score speaks for itself.”
HARVARD 9, CORNELL 0
The Crimson entered Sunday afternoon hoping to continue the strong team performance it displayed against the Lions. After Cornell’s close loss to Trinity last weekend, Harvard knew its opponents were capable of notching an upset.
“We love the challenge,” Kingshott said. “We’d rather be tested than play matches which are less competitive, so it makes us stronger if we know people are gunning for us and want to take us down. We’ll rise to that occasion.”
Kingshott got her team off to a fast start, with a victory in straight sets at the No. 6 position that extended the senior’s unbeaten season. Elsewhere in the round, No. 9 freshman Isabelle Dowling recovered after dropping the first game by taking over the rest of the match, winning the fourth and final game, 11-2.
Sophomore Haley Mendez took the first two games of her match at No. 3, but a series of contentious let calls and mishit shots gave Big Red senior Jaime Laird a lifeline in the third game. But Mendez was able to flush the distractions and take the final game, 11-4.
With the 3-0 lead, the Crimson’s comfort in the match grew, and Harvard took all three of the second round matches in straight games. Freshman Saumya Karki continued her strong rookie season, picking up her seventh collegiate win, while sophomore Julianne Chu won three close games to close out her match. Senior Laura Gemmell, despite being visibly in pain from a leg injury and stretching at every break, fended off junior Jesse Pacheco, 11-7, 13-11, 11-8.
With the match already in hand, the third round of matches went quickly. Co-captain Sarah Mumanachit only played one game, winning 11-3, before her Cornell senior Maggie Remsen retired due to injury. Freshman Michelle Gemmell matched her sister’s result, registering a 3-0 win for her sixth victory of the season. At the No. 1 position, sophomore and defending individual national champion Amanda Sobhy had to recover from early deficits in each of her first two games to take a 2-0 lead. In the third game, Sobhy was down 10-7 and in a position to lose the first game of her collegiate career. She survived three game balls to take the game and a match, 12-10.
“[The result] is a good confidence boost for us going to [No. 4] Trinity,” Kingshott said. “They are another step above. Every match now is building on each other.”
HARVARD 9, COLUMBIA 0
Harvard easily dispatched of Columbia, 9-0, Saturday afternoon, as no Crimson player dropped a game in the first Ivy League match since the Jan. 13 loss to the Tigers.
At the No. 1 spot, Laura Gemmell deposed of Lions’ No. 1 Catherine Jenkins by only allowing four total points against. Her dominance typified the Crimson performance, as no Columbia player scored more than eight points in any game.
Sobhy and Mumanchit sat out for the Columbia match, meaning sophomore Megan Murray and senior Eliza Calihan entered the top nine and took 3-0 victories at the No. 8 and No. 9 spots, respectively.
“It’s always good having more teams to play varsity,” Laura Gemmell said, referring to the Lions’ recent transition to a varsity program. “Since they are a bit weaker, I think people use it as a warm-up to work on things in their game and try different game styles.”
—Staff writer Peter G. Cornick can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @pcornick.