Harvard freshman Gina Kennedy claimed the 2017 Women's Individual Championship in stunning fashion, upsetting overwhelming favorite and two-time national finalist Reeham Sedky of Penn, by a score of 3-1.
The Briton dropped just one game in four matches this past weekend en route to the 17th individual national championship in program history. The Crimson has produced more individual collegiate champions than any other school, also boasting 17 Women's National Team Championships.
Harvard's No. 1, sophomore Sabrina Sobhy, decided against traveling to the individual championships, content to rest with the National Team Championship in hand. Penn's Sedky beat Sobhy twice earlier in the year in battles widely-regarded as matchups between the top two players in collegiate squash. After Sobhy's rain check. the path to the title was even more feasible for Sedky, aptly nicknamed The Hammer. Harvard's No. 2 player, the second-seeded Kennedy, would prove to be a stubborn nail.
Breezing through the first round of play, Kennedy then faced former British junior national teammate and fellow freshman Lucy Beecroft of Yale. Familiarity usually breeds competition, but Kennedy silenced that thought with a clean three-game win--choppings.
The Beckenham, U.K. native faced Penn’s No. 3 junior Marie Stephan in Saturday afternoon's semifinal match. Kennedy coasted to a 3-0 victory.
“I actually went into the match against Marie Stephan quite relaxed because I’d never beaten her before…It had really helped having seen Kayley [Leonard] play Marie in the previous weeks and having her there to help me through because she has a great game against Marie Stephan,” Kennedy said.
In the tournament finale, Kennedy jumped to a quick one-game lead. Kennedy's poise was on full display down 4-8 in the second game with all signs pointing to Sedky regaining her form and staving off an upset bid. But the Quaker could not sustain her rally. Kennedy would win the game 11-9.
“After winning the first game it gave me a little bit of belief that I could compete with this girl. So when I went 8-4 down I was just trying to reset and think about the positives that came from the game before and to focus on my game plan, which was to just absorb the pressure of her hard-hitting,” Kennedy said.
As the possibility of an upset materialized, the game became more deliberate and dramatic. Sedky stumbled and hurt her knee, play resumed, and she built a three-point lead, only for Kennedy to even the score at 8-all. This time Sedky managed to close out the Crimson rookie, winning the game 11-9.
Kennedy, whose play was defined by finesse and agility, grabbed an early lead in the fourth game. Her play kept The Hammer (read: Fisher-Price Hammer) off-balance, limiting Sedky's hard-drives. Stifled in play, Sedky decided to take her aggression out on her racket. Equipment issues persisted as Kennedy accidentally struck her foe’s protective eyewear and a second injury timeout ensued.
Sedky had shown the ability to battle through misfortune the night before when she faced the Crimson’s No. 3 sophomore Kayley Leonard in an equally contentious match. Leonard earned a game ball in the first period, but struggled to close out the game and her opponent pounced on the opportunity to win in three games. Nevertheless, her advice about Sedky was instrumental in Kennedy’s success. She would win the deciding game 11-7 to win the Ramsey Cup.
Kennedy combined with junior Alyssa Mehta, who captured an individual title of her own, winning the Holleran South Championship in three games against Stanford senior CC Ho.
“Even though squash is an individual sport, the fact that you have your teammates out there supporting you, it makes it feel more like a team sport,” Mehta said. “It was nice to be at Dartmouth for the weekend, and to support my teammates who were also playing because although it is an individual tournament, we are still playing to represent Harvard."
Mehta breezed through her bracket, dropping just one game along the way to freshman teammate Eleonore Evans, claiming Second Team All-American honors along the way.
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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