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When Secretariat rode home in the 1973 Belmont Stakes to capture horse racing's Triple Crown, it wasn't as much of a victory as a coronation. It was expected, like the Red Sox reaching the World Series once a decade only to lose in seven games, or Janet Evans shredding helpless coeds in the water while at Stanford.
So too--as expected--the Harvard men's squash team had another incredible championship season. The Crimson won the NISRA Team Championships, held this year at Princeton, for a fifth straight time. And the outcome was never in doubt.
Harvard beat Princeton 8-1 in the finals on February 26. The Crimson had a perfect 12-0 record in dual matches and a spotless 6-0 Ivy League scorecard. Harvard finished the regular season with a 58 straight dual match winning streak, which dates back to 1990. Moreover, this year's team did not even come close to losing--in all their matches, only Princeton won three games (in a regular season match on February 5) and only Brown (in the season opener on November 18) and Western Ontario (on December 3) won two games.
"What carried us through was our refusal to give up, our refusal to die," said junior captain Tal Ben-Shachar, who would go on to win the NISRA National Singles Championship the week after the team triumph. "Most of the matches against Princeton [in the final] were tightly fought, but they always broke. It was inevitable. That's how we prepared--they were unable to endure the fast pace of the matches. The satisfaction was immense."
Freshman Daniel Ezra, brother of last year's captain, Adrian Ezra '94. expressed the metaphysical feeling of winning it all.
"The national championship rounded out a great year for all of us," he said. "It [was] an emotional high. Hopefully, we'll have another three years of this. We did the job in style."
And, like McEnroe at his best, the Crimson had the substance to back up the style. Harvard demolished Yale 9-0 in the quarterfinals of the NISRA Championships and Trinity 9-0 in the semis.
The Crimson can look forward to many more fruitful years, as only one of its top nine players is graduating this year, Mike Masland. Ezra, who is the team's number two player, and Rishaad Bilimoria, the team's three seed, are both only freshmen. There will be no letdown in Harvard men's squash.
The championship match against Princeton contrasted with the national title match a year ago between Harvard and Yale. That match, which the Crimson pulled out 5-4 by virtue of a thrilling, come-from-behind 3-2 game victory by Ben-Shachar, went down in squash history as one for the ages--comparable in racket history to the 1981 Borg-McEnroe Wimbledon final.
Although no such drama existed this year, the Princeton final match was tougher than the score might indicate. In a mini-upset, the Tigers had easily beaten Western Ontario (which was the odds-on favorite to face Harvard in the finals) in one semi-final match. That win, coupled with the aforementioned close 6-3 Harvard defeat of Princeton, seemingly set the stage for a battle.
And according to the players (if not according to the scoresheets), that battle came. The even seeded players (the number two, four, six and eight out of nine seeds) took the courts first, and only second seed Ezra had an easy 3-0 match. Although junior Ted Bruenner lost his match, sophomore sixth-seed Andy Walter and freshman eighthseed Jeff Blumberg fought for difficult 3-1 wins.
But the difficulties soon ended, as Ben-Shachar and friends then took the courts. The Crimson players lost only two games in the five odd-seeded matches, and it quickly turned into celebration time.
"It is hard to compare this year's win with last year's," Ben-Shachar said. "But we really progressed from the beginning of the year till the end."
Unsurprisingly, the players stressed Durocher-like teamwork and hard work as the keys to success.
"When one looks at it from an outside perspective, all they see is the statistics," Ben-Shachar said. "But we win because we work and train the hardest as a team. Although we are individuals, we play as team. And we have the best coaching."
All the players also lauded the coaching staff, especially coach Bill Doyle, who has won three national titles in his three years at the helm.
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