The Harvard men’s squash team executed a nearly flawless season: not only did the No. 1 Crimson (18-0, 7-0 Ivy) go undefeated in the regular season and go on to secure the national title with three 9-0 wins, but senior Ali Farag also captured the individual national crown.
“I think everyone was very dedicated this year,” co-captain Brandon McLaughlin said. “In years past, people have been busy, but I think everyone was really focused entirely on squash for the entire three months of the season, which is really important. We knew we had a good team, so as long as everyone stayed committed, which they were, we would be okay.”
The Crimson’s starting lineup this season included five seniors, four of whom play in the team’s top five spots. Farag, co-captains Gary Power and McLaughlin, Nigel Koh, and Thomas Mullaney all served as strong presences who set the tone for their final season.
McLaughlin and Power kept the team focused and on track to win both the Ivy League trophy and the Potter Cup, college squash’s team national title, according to Harvard coach Mike Way.
“There’s a swagger in [McLaughlin and Power] that was exactly what was needed,” Way said. “They wanted it so badly, and what it meant was that there wasn’t going to be a problem with work ethic. As coaches we would almost have to pull the reins in on the team, which is an easier thing to do than to tell a kid to do more.”
The fact that 12 of the team’s 18 wins were shutouts may make it appear that the entire season was smooth sailing for the Crimson, but that is not the case.
On Feb. 4, Harvard came up against Trinity, the No. 1-ranked team at the time. The Crimson downed the Bantams, 7-2, in an upset that handed Trinity its first at-home loss in 18 years. With the win over the Bantams in the regular season, the Crimson rose to the top seed going into nationals.
The only two losses came from freshman Bryan Koh and sophomore Nick Hopcroft, who both avenged their defeats against their respective opponents in the finals of the CSA Team National Championships two weeks later.
“None of these young men will forget this season,” Way said. “How can they? But they’re carrying with them something beyond that…. Whatever is happening mentally during your game, when things slow down and get clearer, you can move forward again. I’m just so happy for them on an individual basis.”
Another matchup that proved difficult was the Harvard-Yale rivalry, in which the Crimson managed to pull away with a 6-3 win both in the Ivy Scrimmages and the regular season matchup. While the game against Brown decided the Ivy League championship, Harvard’s real test came the day before, when its players at the No. 4, 5, and 6 spots dropped their matches against the Bulldogs. But the squad pulled ahead when it swept five of its six other matchups to claim a share of the conference crown.
While the Crimson dominated its Ancient Eight slate, the players had to keep themselves in check in order to focus on winning the Potter Cup.
“I wanted us to do it as quietly as a men’s team at Harvard can go,” Way said. “So I did not like the brash comments, any public statements. Toning it down and bringing in more respect will actually lower anxiety. I always tell my players that they need to be respectful because that’s the right way to behave, and this is where the deeper level of focus is in an athlete.”
In addition to team accomplishments, the Harvard squad garnered multiple individual awards. Farag claimed his second individual national title after having lost the year before in the semifinals. He was also named Ivy League Player of the Year, CSA All-America first team, and the squad’s Most Valuable Player. McLaughlin joined Farag as an All-America first team member, and he and Power shared the Coaches’ Award at the end of the season. Freshman Dylan Murray claimed the Ivy League Rookie of the Year award, and classmate Koh shared the team’s Most Improved Player award with Mullaney.
“I think the team definitely accomplished what it set out to do,” Farag said. “Not just in terms of squash results, but also more importantly in terms of maturity and court awareness. When I look back at how we carried ourselves in the season the years before versus today, I think we should be proud of how far we’ve come.”
—Staff writer Emily T. Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.