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Last season, the Harvard men’s squash team took its undefeated record to Princeton, New Jersey, only to suffer a 5-4 defeat at the hands of the then top-ranked Tigers.
But in this season’s edition of the rivalry, the end result was very different. In fact, it wasn’t even close.
The No. 2 Crimson dominated from start to finish on Saturday, cruising to a 9-0 sweep of No. 7 Princeton at the Murr Center in Cambridge.
“It was definitely a huge win,” co-captain Gary Power said. “I don’t remember the last time we beat Princeton 9-0, a team we shared the Ivy League title with last year.... To come out and win 9-0 today was definitely big.”
Although the Tigers (2-2, 0-1 Ivy) lost several of its top contributors from last year, the team still represented the toughest competition Harvard (6-0, 1-0) had faced this season. The Crimson seized the opportunity to cement its status as one of the top programs in the country.
“We were supposed to beat them, but we didn’t think that it would be this convincing at 9-0,” senior Nigel Koh said. “We all played well today, and I definitely think [we made] a statement.”
The win was Harvard’s sixth sweep of the season, as not a single player has suffered a defeat in 54 total individual matches.
Many of the day’s pairings were controlled from start to finish by Harvard – five players won 3-0 – but other matches did not come as easily and defied the clean impression of the 9-0 final tally. Three contests needed the full five sets to produce a victor, and the ultimate game came down to the wire in each instance.
One of those tight matches came in the third position, where freshman Dylan Murray edged out a five-set victory over Dylan Ward. After falling behind, 2-1, Murray demonstrated poise under pressure and battled to take the final two sets by identical, 11-9 scores.
Harvard received two more wins from freshman Bryan Koh and junior Tyler Olson to seize an early lead.
The Crimson would clinch the overall victory in the second wave of matches, but it would not come easily, as co-captain Brandon McLaughlin and Nigel Koh both clawed their way to victory in five-set matches.
Playing in the second position, McLaughlin won the first set and lost the next two by tight, two-point margins. But McLaughlin demonstrated his resilience by cruising to an 11-2 victory in the fourth game, and he outlasted his opponent, 11-8, in the decisive fifth set.
It was a similar story for Nigel Koh, who fell behind, 2-1, before storming back in the final two games to preserve Harvard’s undefeated mark. As was the case in McLaughlin’s match, the fifth set was competitive to the very end, but Koh ultimately came out on top by a score of 11-9.
“We play a lot of challenge matches against each other [in practice],” Koh said. “We go all out and play to our best. Right now we’re training twice a day, in the morning and in the afternoon, which is helping with our endurance in matches. Thankfully it paid off.”
Senior Thomas Mullaney rounded out the second shift by earning himself a victory in straight sets.
With the Crimson holding a 6-0 lead entering the final wave of matches, the last three pairings would have no bearing on Harvard emerging with a team win. But senior Ali Farag, Power, and sophomore Nicholas Hopcroft all cruised to straight-set victories to ensure that the day would end on a positive note for the Crimson.
The CSA individual national champion in 2012, Farag endured two close opening games but efficiently dispatched Samuel Kang to earn the win at the number one position.
Playing at number four, Power boosted his win total on the season to five, and Hopcroft made short work of his opponent in the seven spot to win another three-setter for Harvard.
Saturday marked the beginning of a five-match home stand for the Crimson, and the showdown with Princeton represented the team’s first significant test of the year.
“More than a statement to everyone else, it’s a statement to ourselves, to see where we’re at and what we need to improve on,” Power said. “There were some good things today, especially from some of the young guys, so we’re pretty pumped about that.”
—Staff writer David Steinbach can be reached at email@example.com.
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