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For more years than the seniors on the Harvard men's squash team can remember, the program has been steeped in the tradition of winning--winning the Ivy League title and topping the nation for at least the past three seasons.
But key members of the returning squad point out that this season is very different from past years. With a characteristically auspicious beginning, the evidence of this team's difference is not apparent. Hidden in the three early season, uncontested triumphs over Brown (9-0), Cornell (8-1) and Franklin & Marshall (9-0), is a turnover in the line-up which is unprecedented in Harvard squash history.
Due to the graduation of four of the top players from last year's championship team, the squad is sporting a new, younger appearance. With only nine players comprising the varsity echelon, the changing of the guard nears 50 percent.
"Losing those four guys was not just significant because they were great players," captain Andy Walter said. "They were seniors, who were great leaders and who stood for the tradition that makes the program successful."
On most teams and in most sports, statistics such as a 50 percent turnover would be followed by the resigning expression "rebuilding year."
But talk like that never enters the cramped, narrow courts of Hemenway Gym, home of the men's and women's squash teams.
Despite the fact that Tal BenShachar, the team's previous number one player, who had dominated the squash world, graduated last spring, and the fact that the talented recruits don't fill the upper ranks that were left empty by the mass exodus of experienced players--the team will not say that it's not as good.
"It's just very different from the past year," senior Joel Kirsch said. "I can't say that we're not as good. The new players haven't adapted to the college experience yet, and they haven't had the experience like the ones we lost."
This comment indicates that the men's team is looking toward its long term goals. Games against Brown, Cornell and Franklin & Marshall are just early season preparation for later competition against the three toughest teams in the nation: Trinity, Amherst and Princeton. Harvard tackles all three of these teams in the span of a week and a half in early February.
Therefore, considering Harvard has only played against weaker opposition, it is premature to judge the absolute ability of the team, or its caliber compared to last year's squad. Only time will tell whether this team will overcome its relative inexperience.
"I consider us a strong team with enough time to prepare for our tough matches," Walter said.
The expectations for the season have not diminished in the face of this added challenge.
"Our expectations are to continue forward with the same chance of success, putting in the same effort," Walter said. "We're confident in who we have and in the work ethic of the team."
But despite the continued confidence, Harvard's prowess is no longer certain. A loss is a definite possibility in this season more than in past years.
Harvard's response to its critics is to simply be realistic.
"It is a misconception that the team has immortals and can't lose," Walter said. "There is always a chance to win or lose."
"The depth in the team is not the best it has been, but we could win and that's how you have to look at it."
To the team, it's about work ethic, dedication, preparation, playing to their potential and maxing out its ability when the time comes. It's certainly not about needless worrying over potential wins and losses.
"To doubt yourself before you're even challenged would be ignorant," said Walter.
Not only would it be ignorant, but it would be a contradiction to the history of the men's squash team. This is a tradition steeped in well-deserved victories that are a product of a talent harvested by hard work and dedication to the sport.
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