How many more?
That’s the only question that remains after host Harvard women's squash swept the competition this President’s Day weekend to secure its fourth consecutive College Squash Association (CSA) national championship and become the winningest franchise in women’s collegiate squash.
After breezing past No. 8 Cornell and No. 5 Yale, the Crimson faced third-ranked Trinity (15-3) in the packed Murr Center on Sunday afternoon in defense of its team championship. But hardly an hour and one wave into the match, sophomore Amelia Henley’s drop shot gave the team and home crowd its 18th Howe Cup to celebrate. Home makes winning sweeter, but Harvard had been hitting the sweet spot all year long.
Beyond all of the superlatives—perfect record (15-0, 7-0 Ivy), most women’s titles by a Crimson coach (six), and Ivy League Champions—this season has been defined by the sheer dominance of the team.
“The win this year was more about backing up what we had already achieved,” sophomore Gina Kennedy said.
For the first time in 15 years—and competing against the team that last accomplished the feat—Harvard swept all nine fixtures of the national championship. In the process, the Mike Way-coached team dropped just four individual matches the whole season and saw eight players end up with perfect individual match records.
Despite the pressure that the team faced as defending champions throughout the season, the performance against the Bantams may have been the Crimson’s best response yet. In previous matches against top teams in Trinity, Princeton, and Penn, one player faltered. This time, Harvard won 9-0. No individual match-up went beyond four games.
“The team really put on a strong performance with all these expectations on top of us having won it the past few times and having a 50-match winning streak coming into the tournament,” No. 6 co-captain Sue Ann Yong said.
Junior Kayley Leonard completed a sweep of the all-important first wave with another one of her signature grinding victories in the third slot by winning a fourth-game tiebreaker against the Bantams’ Julia Le Coq. Leonard also headlined the first wave in last year’s national championship by completing a thrilling fifth-game comeback against Marie Stephan, which similarly brought the Crimson to the verge on victory.
But while the Harvard team is highlighted by four All-Americans and a reigning individual national champion in Kennedy, its strong depth meant wins came early and without much drama.
“What’s so cool about college squash is that it is not an individual sport anymore,” Yong said. “You aren’t representing yourself, but you’re representing a team.”
Each rung on the ladder is given the same amount of weight. Slots six and nine set the tone for the match as part of the first wave, and Trinity was given no semblance of an opening when Yong allowed her opponent just 12 total points across the three-game sweep.
The glory would stay with the bottom half of the ladder. While No. 2 junior Sabrina Sobhy was coming close to ending her match at the glass court, No. 5 Henley fought off a first-game loss to bring her match to championship point at 10-3 in the fourth game against the Bantams’ Vanessa Raj. With the home crowd cheering, the two players took on a 30-shot rally that Raj eventually won. The crowd gave a round of applause in appreciation. The applause the point after was in celebration.
Taking the regular season’s results into consideration, many assumed the national championship would likely be retained by the Crimson. There was, instead, a shift in awareness to the setting of the title defense.
“It was nice for the seniors being able to have the final match on the home court," Kennedy said. “So, we were really excited about having a good atmosphere for our last game and pretty much the whole team’s families came over... There was very high morale going into the tournament.”
Trinity gave a valiant effort, but the NESCAC team was simply outclassed by Harvard. The Bantams could not match the depth of the Crimson, even had the Hartford, Conn. team run with Harvard’s top players. In any case, newly promoted No. 1 Kennedy was able to fight off Raneem Sharaf in three games (including a close 14-12 second game) to complete the uniform victory.
Thus began the day’s second big celebration: the end of the season, the start of reflection, and the continuation of a dynasty.
—Staff writer William Quan can be reached at email@example.com.