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Women's Squash Dominates No. 3 Trinity, Blanks No. 9 Drexel

Shooting Straight
Last year’s individual national champion, sophomore Gina Kennedy, is so far undefeated in this 2017-18 season.

It’s not very often that Harvard women’s squash doesn’t come out on top. This week was no different in terms of the team’s outcome, sweeping games against No. 9 Drexel and No. 3 Trinity, but the entrance was new.

Due to weaker strength of schedule, the Crimson (8-0, 3-0 Ivy) dropped from its No. 1 position atop the College Squash Association (CSA) rankings and ceded ground to newly top-ranked Princeton.

This set Harvard up with a Monday afternoon away matchup at the Bantams home court, facing a team that had won three straight games the prior week against top-five teams in Stanford, Yale, and Penn. Circumstances did not favor the team from Cambridge carrying a 45-game win streak into the contest, with the Bantams (10-2) certainly angling to play the spoiler.

“It’s always a little bit more pressure just going into a new environment, that you just don’t really know what to expect,” co-captain Alyssa Mehta said. “But I think we kind of prepped for that in and of itself.”

HARVARD 8, TRINITY 1

Playing in an elongated fashion with only a couple of matches going on at a time, the Crimson quickly built up a 4-1 lead to put the Bantams in a deep hole. But as it went down, the Bantams could have looked to their own devastating loss earlier in the season to Princeton for inspiration. Trinity had built up its own 4-1 lead in that matchup, but the host Tigers swept the match’s third wave as part of its current undefeated campaign this season.

That hope would soon fade away as Harvard went to sweep the back half of the matches en route to a resounding victory over the Bantams, which boast their own set of four All-Americans to match the Crimson’s.

“Basically, I think what it came down to was mental preparation and just having a really hard-fighting attitude going into the match, and I think we covered the mental side of the game very well,” Mehta said.

Harvard’s top three—including juniors Sabrina Sobhy and Kayley Leonard and sophomore Gina Kennedy—took care of business easily, as each swept their respective opponents in three games. This dominant top of the lineup will present a special challenge against top competition. All three have played as the No. 1 in matches this season, and they are a collective 21-0 in individual matches.

But star power is only as good as the entire team. National finalists last year, Penn has languished to a 5-3 record this year even as two-time individual national finalist Reeham Salah has remained undefeated. The good news for the Crimson is that its depth has shown up consistently.

Co-captain Sue Ann Yong was the only Harvard player to lose, falling to first-team All-American Vanessa Raj after winning the first two sets, while playing in the sixth slot on the ladder.

No. 8 junior Sophie Mehta and No. 9 freshman Hannah Craig both swept their match-ups in three games. Three other matches went to four games, and the Crimson players were able to stave off their opponents in all of them. But it’s no coincidence that Harvard did well in its tightly-contested matches.

“So, we’ve been doing a lot of practice matches during our practice times to get us into competitive shape,” sophomore Eleonore Evans said. “It’s the best way to put us under the most pressure.”

Evans said that winter training put a strong emphasis on cardio and strength conditioning to set up the competitive season.

“We still have a lot of that work put in and so I think we are all in pretty good competitive shape,” Evans said. “This was the perfect opportunity to test it and I think we are all pretty pleased with how we looked out there.”

HARVARD 9, DREXEL 0

When a top-10 team comes into the building, you play attention. With a high-ranked team like the No. 2 Crimson, there is always the opportunity of an upset. Usually, at least.

In the niche of collegiate squash, however, that is not the case. There was no upset, there were no matches, or even games that Drexel (5-7) came away with. In a Sunday matinee, Harvard swept the Philadelphia, Pa., team in straight games across the board.

The Dragons were no match, putting up no more than eight points in any single game. The Crimson has had a lot of the sort recently. The skill level is just simply higher for Harvard.

As the number two ranking indicates, the Crimson has relatively glided through the season with easier opponents. They had a whole month between the first and second games of the season. There is a legitimate question to be raised about falling behind as the others battle forward.

But after beating the country’s third and fourth ranked teams in Trinity and Stanford while dropping just one match combined, that has turned into a nonstarter. Harvard has reaffirmed that it is in a league of its own.

Next week, No. 1 Princeton looks to join that league as well.

—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at william.quan@thecrimson.com.

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