In the final weekend of regular season of play, women’s squash not only looked to breeze past its opponents, but also to complete its domination over its conference opponents. In straight sweeps of No. 5 Yale and No. 10 Brown, Harvard raised its undefeated streak to 50 matches—spanning more than three years—and claimed its third straight outright Ivy League title.
This final slate of contests comes in between the team’s toughest two weekends of the year. Last weekend featured matchups against then top-ranked Princeton and a rematch against last season’s national finalist in Penn. Next weekend is the apex of the collegiate squash season as the Crimson hosts the top collegiate teams in the nation, one last chance for any teams not named Harvard to challenge the Crimson’s position at the top.
“We haven’t lost yet this year, so I think there will be a lot of pressure on us next weekend, but hopefully we’ll do well,” junior Sabrina Sobhy said.
HARVARD 9, BROWN 0
After the raucous crowds of a week ago, the courts at home calmed down considerably for the Sunday matinee, which signaled the end of squash’s regular season. This atmosphere was appropriate as the Crimson (12-0, 7-0 Ivy) took care of business in straight games in all nine of its matches against the Bears (5-9, 0-7).
Brown has gotten the wrong end of the racket in Ivy play. The team continued its five-year drought against Ancient Eight teams and lost for the 48th time (out of 48) against Harvard.
HARVARD 9, YALE 0
The final challenge of the season came this weekend in a matchup in New Haven, which has not been the friendliest place to Crimson athletics this school year. The Bulldogs (10-4, 5-2) lost to the other three teams above them in the national rankings, No. 2 Princeton, No. 3 Trinity, and No. 4 Stanford. But a dramatic 5-4 win against Penn on Jan. 13 allowed Yale to escape to the final weekend of regular season play with just one loss against an Ivy League opponent.
This scheduling allowed the Bulldogs to go into the penultimate weekend of 2017-18 play with the ability to control its own destiny and grab a share of the Ancient Eight title. Heading into a Friday afternoon matchup against a team motivated by rivalry and the potential for a monumental upset, Harvard did not face the friendliest of circumstances.
But characteristic of a team that never loses, these circumstances presented a challenge that ultimately stood no contest against an unbreakable Crimson squad. The team collectively dropped two games against the Bulldogs. One was conceded by No. 7 Eleonore Evans and the other by No. 1 Gina Kennedy, who faced an All-American in sophomore Lucy Beecroft.
By virtue of giving Kennedy the tougher challenge against Yale’s top player, Sobhy played outside of the top slot for the first time in her collegiate career. Kennedy and junior Kayley Leonard had both previously played the top rung on the later when Sobhy was in the lineup, showcasing the quality at the top of the Crimson’s lineup.
Seven out of nine individual matches were won in straight games, but true to its high ranking, Yale put out many close games throughout the lineup. This depth has allowed it to separate itself from top-heavy teams like Penn and gives it a legitimate chance to challenge the top teams come championship weekend. But Harvard won on enemy turf, and now the Bulldogs must.
While Yale was looking for a weekend sweep to grab a share of the conference championship, the squad could have been confronted by an unsettling fact: there has never been a shared Ancient Eight title. This fact pays testament to the stratified nature of collegiate squash, in which the best in a given season beats everyone else.
“I think there is always the pressure to maintain it, especially having won it last year, and the last two times,” said co-captain Sue Ann Yong. “But, yeah, it’s my senior year, so I’m glad we managed to have the Ivy title again. But I think the job’s not done because we have nationals next weekend, so we want to make sure we don’t stay complacent.”
The Crimson has the Ancient Eight title for the 22nd time and is once again the class of the sport. In the 2016-17 campaign, the most games it lost in a single match was two. The two previous seasons had them squeak out with 5-4 victories. This year the team has not conceded more than one game in a match. The statistics indicate a team that is getting better and growing into a dynasty. The team has the opportunity next week to win its fourth consecutive national championship. Doing so in the friendly confines of the Murr Center would be particularly sweet.
“I’m actually really happy that it’s going to be at home because I had it at Harvard my freshman year and having it my senior year is actually amazing, just because my friends can come watch and my parents are also coming too for the first time, so that’s going to be huge,” Yong said.
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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