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Men's Squash Season Recap

Ali Farag had his first collegiate loss against Princeton in a year in which the team came just short of a title against Trinity, losing 6-3.
Ali Farag had his first collegiate loss against Princeton in a year in which the team came just short of a title against Trinity, losing 6-3.
By Michael D. Ledecky, Crimson Staff Writer

Gary Power could have folded.

The cards were stacked against the junior as he entered the third game of his national semifinal match. No. 1 Princeton had not lost to an Ivy opponent in two years. His defending national champion teammate had taken an unexpected loss. Worst of all, he was down 0-2.

“We figured we were done,” junior Brandon McLaughlin said. “We figured it was over.”

But Power, playing at the No. 4 spot, proceeded to rattle off three straight 11-7 games over Tigers junior Dylan Ward, propelling the Harvard men’s squash team to an Ivy League title and its first Potter Cup final since 2005.

“I’ve only been here three seasons, but that was the biggest moment I’ve ever seen,” Crimson coach Mike Way said a day after the semifinal. “For [Power] to come out and do what he did was absolutely heroic.”

In the final, Harvard fell to No. 2 Trinity, 6-3. While the team came up just short this year, the program inched closer to its 31st national title with its best finish since last winning it all in 1998.

“At the time, [the loss at nationals] was tough,” McLaughlin said. “But reflecting on the season, I think we can all pretty much be proud of how we performed.”

Harvard did not drop a single game in seven of its first eight matches to open its season on a tear. 5-4 edgings at the hands of Princeton and Trinity were the Crimson’s only regular season losses.

At the CSA national tournament in New Haven, Conn., Harvard reached the semifinals with a 6-3 win over Rochester. In the semifinals, Power opened his match on cruise control with the Crimson up 4-2 and undefeated junior Ali Farag on the court. But when the Tigers drew even off of Farag’s first career collegiate loss, Power buckled down.

In the national championship the next day, the Crimson nearly sealed the deal. Harvard entered the match as the underdog but came closer to a title than it ever had in the last 15 years, with key wins from Farag, junior Nigel Koh, and senior Alexander Ma.

“On the day, we actually had a shot at winning,” McLaughlin said. “I think Trinity was just a stronger team this year. Next year, I think it will be a different story.”

As the defending individual national champion, Farag was almost automatic for the Crimson at the No. 1 position. The junior just missed replicating his undefeated sophomore season, winning a team-high 16 individual matches but dropping two.

Farag’s second loss came in the individual national semifinal as his repeat bid ended in a tight 3-2 loss to eventual champion Amr Khalifa of St. Lawrence. At the end of the season, Farag shared Ivy League Co-Player of the Year honors with Princeton senior Todd Harrity, who also clipped the Harvard junior in five games in the team semifinal.

“He’s an unbelievable player; he’s just a really great talent,” McLaughlin said of Farag. “I expect him to come back with more hunger next year and can definitely see him winning individual nationals.”

In addition to Farag, McLaughlin captured CSA All-American honors. The junior was named to the second team after finishing 13-3 at the No. 2 position.

“I had a lot better season this year than last year playing at the same position,” McLaughlin said. “There’s always room to improve, and next year I’m going to try to go undefeated if I can.”

Power and junior Tommy Mullaney represented the Crimson in the individual national tournament alongside Farag and McLaughlin. Power finished 13-5 from the No. 2, 3, and 4 positions while Mullaney went 7-5 at the No. 6 position on the year.

While the Crimson graduates captains Jason Michas (No. 8, 10-1) and Zeke Scherl (No. 7, 10-5), Harvard will have no shortage of experienced leadership next year with six rising seniors in its top nine. The Crimson will also welcome an influx of talent from a rising freshman class that includes the brothers of McLaughlin and Koh. The challenge will be to unseat champion Trinity, which has won all but one Potter Cup since Harvard’s 1998 win.

“There’s going to be a lot of experience, and we’re really talented,” McLaughlin said. “We’re excited about our prospects for winning nationals next year.”

—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at mledecky@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @mdledecky.

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