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Harvard Men’s Squash Wins Two of Three at Potter Cup

The Harvard men's squash team won two of three at the Potter Cup, including a win over the Drexel Dragons.
The Harvard men's squash team won two of three at the Potter Cup, including a win over the Drexel Dragons. By Cory K. Gorczycki

The No. 4 Harvard men’s squash team (12-4, 5-2 Ivy) fell 2-7 to the No. 5 Yale Bulldogs (10-4, 5-2 Ivy) to open Potter Cup play, then took down No. 8 Drexel (9-8) in the second consolation, 5-4. The Crimson followed that up with another win, 5-4, against No. 6 Columbia (8-8, 2-4 Ivy) to clinch the fifth spot in the nation.

Harvard 2, Yale 7

Harvard came into the weekend with high hopes, aiming to defend the Potter Cup for the fifth straight year. The Crimson was given a first round bye on the strength of its regular season, despite not dominating as it has in the past. On Friday, in the quarterfinals of CSA nationals, the Crimson lost to Yale in a hard-fought 7-2 loss. Coming off a season full of injuries, where most players had to compete in multiple different spots on the ladder, Harvard couldn’t pull through.

The opening three matches were split 2-1 in the Bulldogs’ favor. Playing in the second seed, All-Ivy freshman Omar Azaam lost to Bulldogs’ sophomore Arav Bhagwati 3-0 (11-9, 12-10, 11-5). After dealing with an illness in the week leading up to the tournament, Azaam was able to push through and gave the more experienced Bhagwati a solid fight.

Junior Neel Joshi knotted it at one apiece with a 3-1 (11-9, 9-11, 11-6, 11-8) victory over Yale’s Merritt Wurts in the eighth spot. Joshi has been a consistent presence for the Crimson all season as one of just five players to compete in every match.

Joshi’s victory would be the closest Harvard came to a lead the rest of the match, as Bulldogs’ Tad Carney outlasted sophomore Denis Gilevskiy 3-1 (12-10, 11-6, 7-11, 11-7). A late push from Gilevskiy was not enough to overcome Carney’s solid squash.

The second wave of matches clinched the Yale victory. It began with Crimson senior captain Ido Burstein falling to Maxwell Orr 3-0 (11-3, 11-7, 11-3) in just 26 minutes. Burstein was never able to settle in as Orr stayed in control from start to finish.

Sophomore Ishant Shah was then overwhelmed by the Bulldogs’ Brian Leonard 3-1 (11-7, 6-11, 11-2, 11-4). Shah would have needed a heroic effort to take down Leonard, given the impressive way the Yale captain and Harrison, N.Y. native was performing. That seemed to be the story for the whole team, unfortunately.

Senior Liam Rotzoll was the final pin to fall in Yale’s first victory over Harvard since 2016, as he was defeated in a grueling 3-2 (13-11, 2-11, 11-6, 7-11, 11-8) loss to Lachlan Sutton that took over an hour to complete. With that, Yale secured an unassailable 5-1 lead, and the last three matches were irrelevant to the result.

However, All-Ivy sophomore David Costales was not going to go down without a fight. Playing the one seed, he battled Skillman Award finalist Siow Yee Xian for another hour before ultimately falling 3-2 (5-11, 11-7, 11-4, 4-11, 11-3). Costales couldn’t match the senior Xian’s experience and was unable to rally from behind and squeeze out the victory.

Closely following, freshman Jacob Lin fell 3-1 (11-6, 11-9, 4-11, 11-5) to Nikhil Ismail for Yale’s seventh and final point of the afternoon. To finish it off, junior captain Tate Harms took an impassioned 3-0 win over Max Forster (11-6, 11-6, 11-7) to get Harvard a second win.

The team had suffered multiple absences from players due to illnesses, impacting their ability to perform.

“I think in my 14 years that was the worst prepared team we’ve ever taken to nationals,” said Coach Mike Way. “None of these guys had a full tank of gas.”

With a sport as physically and mentally demanding as squash, illness is a recipe for disaster. Coming in seeded higher, without a loss to Yale in nearly a decade, and sporting national title hopes, Harvard lost. A highly skilled Bulldogs group was too much for a beaten and battered Crimson team to overcome.

Harvard followed it up on Saturday afternoon against Drexel. With a win against the Dragons in its last match before nationals, the Crimson came in favored and was able to convert it into a big win.

Harvard 5, Drexel 4

Harvard followed its last match on Saturday afternoon with a win against Drexel, prevailing 5-4 against the Dragons. With a win against them in their last match before nationals, the Crimson came in favored and was able to convert it into a big win.

Harms came out strong in the first match of the day, posting a 3-0 (11-9, 11-6, 11-9) victory against Yuri Pollak Pelbart. Harms has been the Crimson’s most consistent player all season, only losing one match overall.

Lin then continued the onslaught, posting a gritty 3-1 (11-2, 12-10, 10-12, 12-10) victory against Guido Lindner. Lin’s opening salvo put Lindner on his heels for the rest of the match, and the freshman had the fitness he built up during the long season to fall back on as he put Harvard up 2-0.

At the ninth spot, junior Connor Stoltz was unable to hold on in a grueling 3-1 (9-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-8) loss to Darien Benn. Thrust into action because Azaam was unavailable, Stoltz fought for over an hour but couldn’t convert on his early 1-0 lead.

Gilevskiy, playing in the four, put forth a dominating 3-0 (11-7, 11-2, 11-2) performance over the Dragons’ Haris Qasim. Gilevskiy got into a groove early, then completely wiped out Qasim in just 27 minutes.

Costales took over at the one, absorbing everything that Nicolas Serna could throw at him in a 3-1 (7-11, 11-7, 11-8, 11-5) win to put the Crimson up, 4-1, with five more matches to go. Costales’ s incredible fitness and ball retrieval was exactly what was needed to come through in a big moment.

Joshi continued giving it his all but fell 3-2 (11-9, 11-7, 5-11, 8-11, 11-5) to Jose Andres Lopez despite a furious comeback attempt. Lopez breathed life into the Drexel side for just a little bit longer, but it wouldn’t be enough.

Rotzoll finished the Dragons off, defeating Fritiof Jacobsson 3-0 (11-9, 12-10, 11-9). His experience in big moments clinched a big win to put Harvard back on track, and took pressure off of the rest of the team as the Crimson continued to fight.

Burstein suffered a loss in the second spot to Youseff Bastawy 3-1 (11-5, 5-11, 11-8, 11-3). Drexel was ready to keep fighting, if not for a win then at least pride.

In the final match of the afternoon, Drexel’s Sean Murphy took down the Shah 3-1 (3-11, 11-7, 11-6, 12-10). Shah opened up the match forcefully but couldn’t maintain his initial high level of play through the whole match.

Despite missing Azaam, the number two for Harvard, the Crimson came away with a close win against a strong team, setting the tone for the push the team would need.

The overall energy from the team on Saturday afternoon was one of recovery and anticipation, as it eyed its match the next day against a strong Ivy conference.

Harvard 5, Columbia 4

Gilevskiy opened up the match for the Crimson at the four with a 3-1 (11-8, 7-11, 11-5, 11-7) win over the Lions’ Laszlo Godde. Gilevskiy commanded control and never left the driver’s seat.

Two minutes later, Costales gave Harvard an early 2-0 lead with a 3-1 (8-11, 11-9, 11-5, 11-1) win against Franklyn Smith. Costales’s fitness proved too much for his opponent at the end of a long weekend of tough matches, and he pulled out a masterful win.

Joshi then played his second five-game match in two days, securing a big 3-2 (11-6, 9-11, 9-11, 11-6, 11-3) win over Rutvik Rau. Despite being down 2-1, Joshi kept his eyes on the prize and dominated the final two games to put the Crimson up 3-0.

Columbia got on the board with Adam Goad taking Shah down 3-1 (11-9, 3-11, 11-3, 11-2). A very back-and-forth match led to a quick win for the Lions in the eighth slot.

A second straight win for Columbia came when Zach Nam beat Rotzoll 3-0 (11-7, 11-8, 11-7) with a relentless approach. The fifth spot has not been kind to Rotzoll this season, where he has just one win.

However, Burstein was not about to let the Lions sneak back in. He put forth a masterpiece in a 3-1 (11-9, 10-12, 15-13, 17-15) win over Harold Castiaux at the second seed. In by far the longest match of the tournament for the Crimson, Burstein emerged victorious and put Harvard up 4-2 with three matches left to play. Burstein, who was ailing from a stress fracture in his foot, simply refused to lose.

“The man of the weekend,” said Coach Way. “He’s taking painkillers after his match to sleep through the night. Right before the next match, he's taking painkillers to try and numb his foot. He is grimacing every time he lunges on the foot.”

“It's actually one of the best performances I have ever witnessed,” said Way. “That to me is what varsity sport is about.”

Paarth Ambani gave the Lions short-lived hope in a 3-2 (5-11, 11-8, 11-9, 7-11, 11-6) victory over Lin at the sixth seed, but Stoltz quickly followed that up with a dismantling of Columbia’s Thomas Soltanian, winning 3-0 (11-8, 11-7, 11-4). This clinched the win for Harvard and solidified its place as number five in the country at the end of the season. Walking off court, Stoltz wasn’t as ecstatic as one might have expected, after a clinching victory at nationals. He looked like someone who had done his job.

“Relief. ‘Oh, I got through, I got the job done for my team,’” said Coach Way, characterizing Stoltz’s post-match mentality. “We were delighted to finish fifth.”

After falling to Yale, the Potter Cup was out of reach, and a program accustomed to winning was unable to continue its prior success. The team worked incredibly hard throughout the season, pushing through obstacles, but Harvard wasn’t able to put it all together in the end. However, Coach Way is optimistic about the future of the program.

“If our guys can look at Ido Burstein and have that attitude next year, we'll win the national title,” said Coach Way. “We will be back.”

Harvard will have one more chance to compete again from Friday, March 8 to Sunday, March 10 at the CSA Individual National Championships at the Arlen Specter US Squash Center in Philadelphia.

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