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Two undefeated records came to an end for the No. 2 Harvard men’s squash team this past weekend. One mark proved to be more considerable than the other, as it was initiated during the 2011-2012 season.
Feeding off its 9-0 sweep of No. 3 St. Lawrence on Thursday at the Murr Center, the Crimson (4-1, 2-1 Ivy) started off strongly against No. 15 Cornell (3-5, 0-3) in its first weekend road trip of the year. Just one day after strolling to an easy 9-0 win at the Belkin International Squash Courts in Ithaca, N.Y., however, Harvard suffered its first defeat of the 2017-2018 season at the hands of a fellow Ancient Eight competitor in No. 4 Columbia, 5-4.
“I thought it was a good performance against Cornell, everyone managed to play well even after the long journey,” freshman Adam Corcoran said. “The Columbia match was very close, could have gone either way. We knew they were a strong team and they just had the edge on the day.”
Led by senior Osama Khalifa, reigning CSA Individual National Champion and twice crowned Ivy League Player of the Year, the Lions (7-1, 3-0) claimed the program’s first ever victory against the Crimson while at home in the Dodge Fitness Center in New York, N.Y. Harvard had won the first eight matchups between the two schools with one of those triumphs coming in the form of a 5-4 conquest in the semifinals of last year’s National Championships.
“We knew going in that there weren’t going to be any easy matches,” sophomore Timmy Brownell said. “Columbia has had a target on us since the start of the season, and they came out really strong on their home courts. This match really shows how competitive the top teams are, and I think that’s a good thing for our league. Going forward, we’re going to learn from this result and come back stronger. There’s still a lot of squash to be played.”
COLUMBIA 5, HARVARD 4
The Crimson’s four victories on the day were interspersed throughout the three waves of match play, but two of those wins helped propel the squad to an early 2-1 lead after the first grouping completed competition. Corcoran and sophomore Sean Hughes helped build the advantage with the former claiming victory in three games, while the latter did so in five. The edge proved fleeting, however, as Columbia players triumphed over Brownell and senior Bradley Smith to pull even after the second wave, 3-3.
The heart of the lineup is where Harvard displayed its greatest strength on the day. To go along with Hughes’ victory, fellow co-captains Madhav Dhingra and David Ryan also bested their opponents. The trio competed at the third through fifth positions on the ladder for the Crimson with the easiest win coming from Dhingra at the No. 5 slot, 11-7, 11-7, 11-6.
With the match tied heading into the final pairings, pressure mounted for each of the players involved. Two of the three Harvard competitors, sophomore Saadeldin Abouaish and Ryan had contended in similarly close matches before, but freshman Julien Gosset was new to such an environment in a team setting on the college stage. According to Corcoran, however, he and the team’s other rookies were able to harness their focus in the moment.
“Both sets of fans were making a lot of noise so it could have been a difficult atmosphere [to play in], but I think we were able to deal with it and just focus on our own performances,” Corcoran said.
Gosset got himself into an early hole by losing the first two sets of his match against Lions sophomore Robin Mann, 11-4, 11-6. After recovering to take the third game easily, the Toronto, Ontario native faded towards the end of the fourth to end the bout. Ryan’s own four game win helped tally the Crimson’s fourth triumph of the day, while Abouaish took Khalifa to five games to set the final score of the match.
Although he had faced off against his fellow Cairo, Egypt, native two previous times in his career at the No. 1 position, Abouaish got off to a slow start against Khalifa. The senior took the first game, 11-3, but the rest of the match proved to be very contested.
The two competitors traded off the next three games to force a fifth set. But Khalifa made his stand near the conclusion of the final frame, with his triumph—11-3, 8-11, 11-9, 12-14, 11-9—helping to propel Columbia to its ultimate victory over Harvard. Abouaish’s record against Khalifa now stands at 1-2 with the sophomore having lost the last two matches in five-gamers.
“Saad fought really well throughout the match against a very difficult opponent,” Corcoran said. “He was attacking well and put Osama under a lot of pressure. He opened up the court a little too much at the end and Osama took his opportunities well to get the win.”
HARVARD 9, CORNELL 0
On Saturday, the Crimson fared much better against an overmatched Big Red side. Even with Harvard holding out Dhingra and Brownell to create more of a challenge for the squad, eight of the team’s nine players breezed to relatively routine wins over their Cornell competitors. Historically, the Crimson has dominated its Ancient Eight challenger from Ithaca, as it sports a 48-2 all-time record against the Big Red. 33 of those victories have come in similarly styled 9-0 sweeps.
In removing Brownell and Dhingra from the second and fifth positions, respectfully, Harvard played junior Alexi Gosset and senior Mandela Patrick at the eighth and ninth slots, while shifting the remaining members of the starting nine up the ladder.
For the elder Gosset, a 11-8, 11-2, 11-5 win over Cornell sophomore Jared Scherl represented his first of the season. The junior accumulated a 9-2 record last year playing primarily at the eighth and ninth positions on the ladder. Patrick’s victory, on the other hand, was his second of the campaign with the first coming as another three-game triumph in an earlier match against No. 22 MIT.
Junior Perry Hanson tacked the only game victory for Cornell on the day. He constructed points well early on to take the first against Hughes, 11-9. Hughes regrouped quickly, however, to comfortably take the final three games, 11-7, 11-7, 11-6.
—Staff writer Jackson M. Reynolds can be reached at email@example.com.
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