For most other sports teams, sweeping the weekend against two of the top eight teams in the nation would be celebrated as a huge accomplishment, or maybe even the highlight of a season. But the No. 1 Harvard women’s squash sees it as something to be expected.
The twin noontime matches at the Murr Center against No. 7 Cornell (8-4, 3-2 Ivy) and No. 8 Columbia (5-5, 1-4) were swept by the Crimson, which played in dual meets with the men’s team. The pair of 9-0 victories by Harvard (8-0, 5-0) continues the team’s two-year undefeated streak of 31 games. The women’s squash squad has now gone four matches without dropping a single matchup.
“Both the men and the women had a really successful weekend. We had a really solid win 9-0 against Columbia yesterday,” co-captain Dileas MacGowan said. “Fairly strong team, sort of similar to Stanford, in their level so it was definitely a good win there. And then Cornell today we had a bit of a tougher match. But everyone definitely stood up to the plate today.”
HARVARD 9, CORNELL 0
Coming into town for the second match of the weekend, No. 7 Cornell served as stiffer competition. The team had come into Cambridge having won four of its last five matches. Harvard’s coaching staff seemed to have forecasted the elevated level of play, starting three of its top players that didn’t play in Saturday’s bout.
In the previous two matches against Columbia and Tufts, the Crimson was able to take every single game in all of the individual match-ups. Freshman Gina Kennedy kept that streak going early in the afternoon with a dazzling rally, overcoming a 10-7 deficit at the second spot by rattling off five straight points to win her match’s first game.
“My opponent played really well,” Kennedy said. “When I was 10-7 down I kind of just relaxed a bit…and just got into the rallies a bit more. Tried to not make as many errors and luckily I managed to scrape my way back in. Got my head together a bit after that and it was better.”
The lone blemish came later as No. 8 sophomore Sophie Mehta was unable to close out her match in the third game, losing 9-11, but closed out it out in the next round.
The theme throughout the season has been to use less competitive games as preparation for marquee matchups. Harvard has experimented with different lineup positions, forcing adversity upon the players so that it can excel in pressure situations.
“You know this was mostly about getting ready for our match on Wednesday against Trinity,” MacGowan said. “So we went into this weekend with the mentality being regardless of how good your opponent may be or may not be we want to focus on really deliberately hitting every shot and going into every single point with the mentality of never letting up…This is going to be our toughest matchup of the year so we definitely feel pretty good after this weekend.”
With just a few matches left in the regular season, the Crimson is playing at a level that makes it the favorites regardless of its opponent. The team has shown great resiliency, not a bad pairing with the team’s extreme talent.
HARVARD 9, COLUMBIA 0
Facing the top team in the country, No. 8 Columbia needed all the help that it could get. But with the absence of No. 4 Colette Sultana creating a line-up shift and the overpowering skill of the Crimson, Columbia got swept down in a decisive victory.
Across the board, the lower-ranked Harvard women generally had more decisive victories on Saturday. In past matches, it has often been the Crimson’s top players with the larger margins of victories in the games of their matches.
But at the top of the lineup card there were also some notable items. Harvard, following the example of its previous competition against Tufts, rested three of its higher ranked players, including sophomore Sabrina Sobhy, the team’s No. 1 player. This switch allowed Kennedy to take on arguably the most prominent position in collegiate squash, playing in the No. 1 position on the top women’s team.
“It was fun playing number one, taking Sabrina’s spot,” Kennedy said. “I enjoyed playing number one, but I prefer playing two, probably. It’s a lot more pressure playing at one is what I’m trying to get at. So, I’m glad Sabrina has that spot.”
The match featured few close moments. No. 5 Sophie Mehta played in the only game that went to a tiebreaker, but closed out her match sweep with a 12-10 third game. No. 2 sophomore Kayley Leonard was the only other Crimson athlete to face similar competition, with senior Maya Patel taking at least seven points in all three of their games.
But time and again, when Harvard players have shown some early signs of struggle, they finish up games and matches with long streaks of dominance. So goes the season.
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.