In football, it's the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In hockey, it's the Boston University Terriers. In basketball, it's the Kentucky Wildcats. But in men's squash, it's the Harvard Crimson.
Harvard has been a perennial power in squash for the past half-century, and, after Saturday's 9-0 sweeps of Cornell and Franklin & Marshall at Hemenway Gymnasium, the Crimson showed it has no plans to relinquish its rule over the collegiate squash world.
"Every match we push as hard as we can, regardless of who it is," co-captain and Crimson editor Tal BenShachar, Harvard's No. 2 seed, said. "We don't think of the opponent--we just concentrate on our own game and producing the best squash that we can on that given day."
Well, the harvest turned out to be very fruitful this weekend.
Not a single Harvard varsity player lost his match in the three contests last weekend that began Friday afternoon against Navy. Such an accomplishment is especially impressive considering that the Crimson was missing its No. 1 player, sophomore Daniel Ezra to an injury.
The Crimson squared off with Cornell at 1 p.m., and it soon became all too clear that the Big Red had driven all of eight hours from Ithaca straight into a slaughterhouse. Within an hour and a half, all nine courts were splashed with Big Red blood and nine Harvard men victoriously brandished their racquets.
New sophomore phenom Joel Kirsh played in the number one spot against Cornell, as Ben-Shachar sat out the first match to give his injured back a rest. Kirsh, however, had no problems filling in the void left by Ezra and Ben-Shachar. Despite his opponent's skillful reverse-angle deception shot, Kirsh railed Cornell's Matt Churchill 3-0.
"Overall, I think that I was a little bit better than him," Kirsh said after the ensuing carnage, in the understatement of the day. "The pace was a bit faster than what he was expecting."
More likely, Churchill never even knew what hit him from the start.
The Franklin & Marshall Diplomats, however, had a much stronger team than Cornell and the points were longer and more spirited. The Crimson proved to be decidedly undiplomatic, though, and sent the Diplomats home without a single win.
In the last, and perhaps one of the most exciting and well-played matches of the day, Ben-Shachar battled Franklin & Marshall freshman star Vincent Asthana for three marathon games in front of a packed crowd. Ben-Shachar had trouble putting the speedy Asthana away, but, to his credit, Ben-Shachar never lost his poise and always gave Asthana the benefit of the doubt on points.
There's lot to be said for experience in squash, and the older and wiser Ben-Shachar spanked the talented freshman, 3-0.
"He kept the ball going for a long time," Ben-Shachar said. "Every game I won by one or two points only, so I just stuck in there for the very important points. Otherwise, it was very evenly matched."
"[Asthana] was pretty creative..."Harvard coach Bill Doyle said. "He was tough to play."
Harvard's No. 4 player, sophomore Rishaad Bilimoria, also faced the oldest player currently competing at the collegiate level, 31 year-old Diplomat Patrick Grant. In this case, older and wiser proved to be a little too old and wise--Bilimoria handily defeated Grant 3-0, leaving the old man literally sprawled on the ground afterwards and gasping for air.
The Crimson is gearing up for the February 4 showdown against its toughest competitors, the pesky Princeton Tigers.
"I'd like the guys to jump to another level," Doyle said. "As we move along, hopefully we'll get some opposition that'll test us--it just makes it more fun."
Whoa there, Coach. Some Harvard fans are happy enough having a team they can look to year after year and say, without any reservation, "We are the champions."