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The top-ranked Harvard women’s squash team opened the season with a bang, defeating both Stanford and Williams last Friday in Williamstown, Mass.
The Crimson (2-0) lost only three games all day, with its top six going undefeated in the squad’s 6-3 victory over the No. 6 Cardinal (4-1) and its sweep over the No. 9 Ephs (1-2).
Harvard All-Americans Laura Gemmell and co-captain Cece Cortes did not play, but the Crimson was still able to show its dominance on its opening day.
“It was a good start to the season,” said co-captain and All-American Nirasha Guruge. “I thought everyone played well despite the long trip to Williams and having two matches back-to-back.”
HARVARD 9, WILLIAMS 0
In the second match of the day, Harvard continued its dominance over the Ephs, notching its 30th straight victory against the host squad. The Crimson nine did not lose a single game en route to a 9-0 sweep of Williams.
Harvard overpowered the Ephs with a strong showing despite just coming off of a relatively close battle against Stanford.
“We definitely have a really strong team this year,” junior Sarah Mumanachit said. “It was our second match of the day, and everyone still had their mind set on match day and brought everything to the table.”
At the No. 1 spot, Guruge won a hard-fought match, with two of her games only decided by two points in her 3-0 victory.
The match at the No. 2 spot was also contested, with freshman Haley Mendez’s opening game decided by a score of 12-10.
But she easily won the next two games, winning 11-3, 11-6.
Mendez’s experience with the U.S. National Team helped her in her opening day on the Harvard squad.
“It’s a pretty high position to play as a freshman,” Guruge said. “I think she really stepped up. She’s handled this challenge pretty well.”
HARVARD 6, STANFORD 3
Earlier in the afternoon, the No. 1 Crimson defended its lofty ranking with a 6-3 victory over the Cardinal.
With Gemmell feeling under the weather and Cortez currently injured, the top six of Harvard stepped up and overcame tough losses in the bottom three.
“We were resting our No. 1 player, so everyone moved up one,” Guruge said. “But people have off days, so as long as we won overall, I think it is fine.”
A few individual matches went to four games, but the Crimson was able to make adjustments throughout the afternoon, shaking off opening day nerves and rust.
“I think some of us were just working out some kinks,” Mumanachit said. “But everyone made adjustments and improved later on in the match, and it shows a lot of promising things for the future.”
Another freshman, Julie Chu, playing at No. 5, won three straight games after losing her first, 11-8.
Mendez also played well, capturing an 11-0 win in the second game as she shut out her opponent, 3-0.
“A couple of them were pretty nervous,” Mumanachit said. “But I think just getting into it and seeing how good they are and seeing how their hard work has paid off calmed their nerves a bit later on.”
Harvard has been looking to improve upon its fitness early this season, drawing upon a new system from the team’s new coaches.
Winning two matches in a row demonstrated the squad’s improvement in this area.
“We’re focusing on building our fitness level this semester,” Guruge said, “so that we can taper off next semester when we have to play the really hard matches and play nationals and fight for the Ivy League championship.”
These hard matches will take place later on in the season, but the Crimson still took care of business during the Harvard-Yale weekend.
“Playing Williams and Stanford is not that tough for us, but that didn’t mean we took it easy; we still gave it our best and were prepared to play them,” Guruge said.
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