Article courtesy of the College Squash Association. Images courtesy of Magdalena Kala.
Harvard University defeated Trinity College 9-0 to win the 2014 Men’s National Team Championships. Playing on their home courts, the Crimson delighted the Murr Center crowd by winning the Potter Cup for the first time since 1998.
Harvard has come a long way in a few years. Once perennial contenders for the national title, the Crimson couldn’t make it out of the first round of the Potter Cup in 2011, when the current seniors were freshmen.
Since then, Harvard has grown stronger each season. In 2012, the Crimson reached the Potter Cup semifinals, and a year later they reached the finals, upsetting defending champions Princeton in dramatic fashion during the semis. Though Harvard lost the 2013 title to Trinity 3-6, they were clearly a team to be reckoned with.
This season Harvard has been unstoppable. During the regular season, the Crimson went 14-0, capturing their second consecutive Ivy League title and blanking eight of their opponents 9-0.
Harvard carried that perfection through the first two rounds of the tournament, sweeping Penn in the opening round and Franklin & Marshall in the semifinals, dropping a total of three games overall.
Trinity had a bumpier road to the finals. While the defending national champions only had a single loss during the regular season – a 2-7 loss to Harvard at home in Hartford – they survived two 5-4 scares against F&M and Yale and had several competitive 6-3 matches.
At the Men’s National Team Champions, Trinity beat Cornell 6-3 in the first round and defeated Yale 8-1 in the semifinals.
The exuberant home crowd for the Potter Cup final made it clear that Harvard was their favorite to win. During introductions, the crowd gave an enthusiastic round of applause for Harvard senior Ali Farag, who was presented with the Skillman Award, the highest individual honor in men’s college squash.
In first flight of matches in the final, Harvard freshman Dylan Murray won in three games over Vrishab Kotian at No. 3 to put the Crimson on the board first. Trinity’s Zeyad Elshorafy went out to a two-game lead on Harvard freshman Bryan Koh, who came back and won the match in five. Harvard junior Tyler Olson also won in five over Trinity senior captain Matthew Mackin. By the end of the first round, Harvard had a 3-0 lead.
Trinity’s hopes stayed alive as the second round began. Junior Karan Malik came back from one down to win the next two games against Harvard senior co-captain Brandon McLaughlin. Then the balance shifted back in Harvard’s favor. Another Harvard senior, Nigel Koh, won in three games over Elroy Leong at No. 5.
With Harvard now up 4-0, McLaughlin stormed back to win the fourth game 11-2 against Malik. With the national title on the line, the two players traded points through the fifth game. They tied at five-all, then eight-all, then ten-all. At moments it looked like Malik had control, and then it looked like McLaughlin would pull away. Finally he did, winning 12-10 in the fifth to give Harvard the 2014 national championship.
There were matches yet to be played, but seniors Farag, Tommy Mullaney, and co-captain Gary Power could enjoy the final home matches of their intercollegiate careers as national champions. Harvard won the final matches on court, sweeping Trinity 9-0.
The Crimson are led by Mike Way, the Gregory Lee ’87 and Russell Ball ’88 Endowed Coach for Squash, and assistant coaches Luke Hammond and Hameed Ahmed.
This is Harvard’s thirty-first national team title in men’s squash.