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The return road to squash dominance takes an important turn this weekend as the Crimson hosts Penn and defending national champion Princeton at Hemenway Gym.
"I hope we'll just smash them," said junior John Masland, who saw the Tigers end Harvard's 72-game winning streak last season.
Though the Quakers boast the nation's top player and the Tigers smashed Harvard, 8-1, last year, the Crimson is favored to sweep this weekend's festivities, and not just because of the home advantage. Harvard currently has a healthy team that recently won the five-man national championships. The crew includes a talented slew of freshmen and sophomores, as well as seniors looking to leave with another national championship.
"This is the last of the big matches at home for me," Co-Captain Jon Bernheimer said. "It's the last time I'll be out there with all my friends watching, and that means a lot to me."
Last February, Princeton hit Harvard hard and showed the Crimson how to lose--something the racquetmen had not done in six years. The win ensured the Tigers a tie with Harvard and Yale for the national championship.
The Quakers, on the other hand have chalked up only one victory against Harvard since 1929. Last year, Penn finished fourth, and this year it has the added incentive of sending off Coach Al Molloy with one final hoorah.
"Harvard is a perennial power in squash," Penn Assistant Coach Phil Decola said. "The guys are excited about measuring themselves against the Harvard team, and it'll also be the last Harvard-Penn match for Al. [With 32 years experience,] he's the dean of college squash coaches."
Princeton's coach Bob Callaghan does not foresee the Tigers humbling Harvard as they did last year.
"We view Harvard as our traditional rivals," Callaghan said. "Unfortunately we're not quite in Harvard's class this year. They've got a bunch of strong freshmen that we just don't have."
Harvard's freshmen are a fundamental reason for its resurgence. Marty Clark and Josh Horwitz, the top two under-18 players in the nation last year, have not lost this year.
"This weekend is a big weekend," Harvard Coach Steve Piltch said. "We'll just go out there and see who's better that day. I think we're as ready as we can be. Then again, I think Princeton's also as ready as it can be."
Hemenway will host a Canadian rivalry when sophomore Jeremy Fraiberg, playing at number-one seed, battles Princeton's 1989 All America junior Chris Stevens. Stevens was Canada's number-two junior player for two years before Fraiberg rose to become the nation's best.
Saturday afternoon, sophomore transfer Mark Baker will play number-one against Penn's Ridolfo Rodrigues, last year's top rookie.
"[Ridolfo] is the best there is in hardball squash." Decola said. "He's quite a phenomenon."
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