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Freshman Will Broadbent arrived at Harvard this fall with huge expectations tinged with uncertainty. He had been a top squash player in the junior United States national tournaments for the past several years and had finished second in the national junior championship in his senior year in high school.
Intercollegiate No. 6 Broadbent knew he could compete with the best players in juniors, but he didn’t know if he could play with the best at the college level. The heralded freshman continued a year long crusade to rise to the top of collegiate squash when he defeated defending national champion and reigning intercollegiate No. 1 Bernardo Samper of Trinity on Saturday at the College Squash Association Team Championships.
“It felt great to beat Samper,” Broadbent said. “It really has given me the knowledge and the confidence that I can compete with anybody in collegiate squash on any day.”
When the season opened, Broadbent defeated defending All-American James Bullock to gain the top position on the No. 3 Crimson’s ladder. One of Broadbent’s first true tests came in December when Harvard faced off in the five-man USSRA team championships against five-time defending national champion Trinity. Broadbent lost in straight sets to the Colombian sophomore Samper, while Trinity defeated the Crimson 5-0.
Broadbent went on to have a great season, defeating all opponents seeded lower than him, but he had lost to Yale No. 3 Julian Illingworth and Princeton’s Yasser El-Halaby, who was seeded first at the time.
The win over Samper, Broadbent’s first over a top-three opponent, may well have signaled his true arrival as a force on the intercollegiate squash scene.
“I think it just shows how much I have improved and how great Coach [Satinder] Bajwa has been during the year,” Broadbent said. “My volleying and my accuracy especially have just improved dramatically, and it is a testament to the hard work that everyone on the team puts in.”
Broadbent’s match was not only huge as a confidence booster for him, it was also crucial for the Crimson. Harvard squash had never lost a 9-0 match in their storied history, and Trinity’s bottom eight players had all defeated their Crimson players handily, with only sophomore Gaurav Yadav winning a game for Harvard, by the time Broadbent finished his match.
“Will really did a great job preserving that record for us,” senior co-captain Dylan Patterson said. “It would have been a shame to be on the team that broke that streak, and it was a big win for Harvard squash.”
Samper opened the match on a tear, beating Broadbent 9-2 in the first game, and it appeared as if he would easily defeat the Harvard freshman for the second time in a national tournament.
“Coach Bajwa pulled me aside at the end of the first game and told me I was playing well and just to keep at it,” Broadbent said. “He told me to go out there and put the pressure on him because he was going to make some mistakes, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Broadbent responded brilliantly, winning the next three games 9-3, 9-5, 9-3.
“Broadbent played a really good match,” Patterson said. “He is a lot bigger than Samper, so he slowed the game down to his pace and just hit the ball beautifully.”
Though he fell 3-1 to Yale’s Illingworth in the consolation round that Harvard won 5-4 on Sunday, Broadbent remains confident and poised going into the individual national championship this weekend.
“It was my third match in three days, and I was a bit tired from the Samper match and not really playing like myself,” Broadbent said. “I know now that I can compete with anyone in the country, and I can’t wait to get out there and represent Harvard along with my teammates in the individuals this weekend.”
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