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For the first time since 2003, Harvard women’s squash is a back-to-back Ivy League champion.
The result emerged from a busy weekend in which the team played three days in a row. After a quick away contest at Brown (5-5, 0-5 Ivy League), the No. 1 Crimson hosted Stanford and Yale at home.
The clash with the Cardinal (4-6) marked the second matchup this season, which was the first time that the two teams had played a home-and-home series. Meanwhile, the Sunday date with the Bulldogs (11-4, 4-3) gave Harvard a chance to clinch the crown with a win.
Ultimately, there was little suspense. The top-ranked Crimson (12-0, 7-0) breezed through a trio of sweeps and glided its way to a second straight crown.
Despite the team’s long string of dominance, it had not won the Ivy League crown twice in a row since 2003. This time, Harvard used the weekend as preparation for College Squash Association (CSA) National Team championship coming in two weeks, getting a final preview of possible opponents and gaining experience dealing with a demanding cluster of games.
But arguably the most important item on the agenda was the celebration of the final home games for the four seniors on the team, including co-captains Dileas MacGowan and Caroline Monrad, along with Keegan Mendez and Katie Tutrone.
“The team did really well this weekend, especially because it was the last matches of the season for the seniors,” freshman Gina Kennedy said. “So everyone was really pumped to play for them and help make sure they were sent off on a fine note. The seniors are a big part of the team, so it’s going to be really weird without them.”
HARVARD 9, YALE 0
With the Ancient Eight championship at stake, the Harvard underclassmen did their best to drain any drama from the final home match for the team’s seniors. Collectively, the youngsters did not drop a game and decided the contest early on Sunday afternoon.
With no pressure to perform for the team, the seniors were simply playing for pride and channeling their emotions into one last match on home court.
“They’ve definitely like sisters to me—people that I always know will be there,” Tutrone added. “One of the other seniors is like my closest friend, my roommate.”
MacGowan and Tutrone easily dispatched their opponents, while Monrad dropped the second game by a wide margin before recovering her form and winning in four. The most intense match of the competition came at the end, as Mendez dropped her first set.
But in this final pairing against the Bulldogs, the veteran rallied when the entire home contingent migrated to cheer. Mendez proceeded to take the match in four games over Yale junior Ashley Suan, thriving off the support from spectators and teammates alike. Exiting the squash court, Mendez, like every other victorious senior, received appreciative rounds of applause to end the afternoon of play.
For the past four years, the classmates have played together, and yesterday they won together.
“It’s a social scene a little bit, like people I would hang out with, not just in squash but also outside,” Tutrone said. “We’re all pretty close. We all have pretty similar intentions in life.”
HARVARD 9, STANFORD 0
Making the cross-country trip to face Dartmouth later on Saturday afternoon, the Cardinal stopped by in Boston for a morning match. But the Palo Alto program might have preferred to skip its rematch against Harvard, who provided another 9-0 thrashing.
The top eight players kept the score sheet flawless, not giving up any games. The Crimson had the opportunity to best its Jan. 16 match when it dropped just one game.
An exciting game at the No. 9 slot saw Mendez face off against sophomore Anna Marie Manning in a game that went to the maximum. The pair split the first four games in competitive fashion before Mendez took the final game, 11-8.
Stanford represented another mid-level team that Harvard has recently dominated, although the Cardinal is ranked No. 6, which would provide elite competition in just about every other sport. For the Crimson, the visitors stood as just another team to beat in order to maintain a perfect regular season.
HARVARD 9, BROWN 0
Before 2017, Harvard had faced Brown in 47 matches. The Crimson had won 47 times.
On Friday, Harvard took the short trip down Route 95 to face No. 6 Brown for a 48th time. As it turns out, nothing has changed.
The Crimson as a unit dropped just two games total in the thrashing of its conference opponent. The top two slots were won handily by British freshmen Gina Kennedy and Amelia Henley, who got bumped up in the lineup as the team faced a lesser opponent.
“We have been playing against each other since we were like ten years old,” Kennedy said. “We grew up in the same area so we were always rivals, now on the same team. We always represented England in stuff with each other, and we’re such good friends. It’s really nice to be on the same team.”
Further down the lineup Harvard was able to fight for wins, but the competition was tighter than the next day against Stanford, despite Brown’s lower ranking. Two matches went to four games, and other matches had smaller point differentials than the matches against the Cardinal. The results show that the rankings are imperfect, which is something that the Crimson must be careful about in the national championships, especially against teams Harvard has not faced.
The weekend acted as a tune-up for Nationals, giving good practice and confidence to the the Crimson squad. For the time being, there is no time to stop and reflect. The focus remains on winning a third straight collegiate squash championship.
“It wasn’t as sad as I thought it was going to be, I guess because I know I’m going to play at Nationals,” Tutrone said. “My friend was crying, but I didn’t feel it as much. I was just trying to play my best.”
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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