Last year, then-junior Ali Farag ended his season early when St. Lawrence’s Amr Khaled Khalifa unseated Farag in the semifinals of the CSA Individual Championships in five games. However, this year the senior on the Harvard men’s squash team was able to reclaim his title as collegiate squash’s national champion in a 3-1 victory over the same opponent.
“Everyone has those players that are just out there,” Harvard coach Mike Way said. “But above and beyond being at the level of a professional player is the actual nature of this ‘boy.’ It’s the ‘boy’ nature—the freshness, the love that this boy has for the game and for people—that is what is so rare. He has this joy that he brings to the game that is infectious.... He led as a player, he led in attitude, he was the most coachable—even as the number one player on the team.”
Before Harvard, Farag was ranked first among juniors in the world, won the 2010 Junior World Championships, and helped lead the Egypt junior squash team to a world title in 2010 as its captain. He hesitated when Harvard offered him the opportunity to study abroad and play collegiate squash because of his ties with his home country.
“I was very attached to Egypt and I still am,” Farag said. “At first I didn’t want to come to Harvard at all. However, after I did my interview in January, the revolution happened, and at this point I said I had to come here, get a college degree, and go back after and try to do something for Egypt.”
Farag came into the U.S. collegiate squash world with high momentum and built a squash career punctuated by impressive honors. Since transferring to Harvard as a sophomore, he has garnered awards such as Academic All-Ivy, CSA All-America first team, CSA Individual Champion, Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and Ivy League Player of the Year even before his last season here.
“[Farag] has such a clear line of what is right and what is wrong,” Way said. “So when something was not right [on the squash court]—a cheating opponent, a bad referee—it would upset him because he could never, in his life, think about cheating on the squash court. It became a very emotional thing, and he has learned how to deal with that adversity and he’s matured over the years.”
The 2013-2014 season was different for Farag as he not only went the entire season undefeated, but also won each of his matches in shutouts until the individual championships final against Khalifa, who managed to take just one game.
“[Farag] is unbelievable as a squash player, but also as a person,” co-captain Brandon McLaughlin said. “He’s also an engineering student so he’s working all the time. To be able to come to practice...and perform as well as he does is really an incredible achievement and a testament to what a good person he is. I have an immense amount of respect for everything he has accomplished.”
At team nationals in February, Farag was the last athlete to play against Trinity in the finals, with knowedge that Harvard had won the title, but still soundly defeated his opponent, 3-0, to complete the 9-0 victory for the Crimson.
“The one thing I will remember most is just [the] team and the relationships I have made with these guys,” Farag said. “I’m going to take care to see what they do in the future and I hope they will continue to care about what I do in the future too.”
Farag will graduate with the perfect statistics of a 20-0 season record as the No. 1 player for Harvard this season, in addition to a 52-2 career record in that same slot.
“People look up to him,” McLaughlin said. “They look at the way he carries himself leading up to matches, the way he performs, how composed he is—he’s a great sportsman on the court, and just the ideal player that you want at the top of the lineup.”
At the end of the CSA Team National Championships, Farag also won the Skillman Award, given to a player who has demonstrated great sportsmanship in his college career.
“His legacy is going to go down in history,” Way said. “He’s played a brand of squash here that no one has ever seen in our sport. He’s definitely going to live on for the guys who have played alongside him, and also for us as the coaches. As long as we’re in the driver’s seat, we will refer to Ali and how no one respects the game as much as he does—respecting referees, opponents, coaches—that’s part of his legacy.”
—Staff writer Emily T. Wang can be reached at email@example.com.