With the collegiate debut of its international standout Ali Farag this weekend, the undefeated Harvard Crimson looked far better than its No. 5 ranking. The Crimson were 10-0, had already won the Ivy scrimmage during the preseason, and now it was debuting a sophomore who would end a 26-match collegiate win streak this weekend.
Yes, Harvard looked far better than No. 5, but perhaps Princeton just might be better than its No. 3 ranking as well.
Despite the first loss for junior Todd Harrity since the 2010 national individual final, the undefeated Princeton men's squash team topped Harvard in its own Murr Center 5-4 Sunday afternoon. Sophomore Dylan Ward rallied past Zeke Scherl at the No. 7 spot to put the final point on the board in Princeton's best team victory since the 2009 national semifinal.
"This was a great team win for us today," head coach Bob Callahan said. "The guys played with class and guts today and beat a very good Harvard squad."
The match was played in three shifts, and Callahan figured his team needed to at least get one win in the opening shift. A pair of underclassmen doubled that wish, as both freshman Tyler Osborne and sophomore Ash Egan came out with key wins.
Osborne topped former Harvard No. 1 player Gary Power in three tight games (9,7,8) to give Princeton its first win, and sophomore Ash Egan, only one day removed from a loss at Dartmouth, bounced back in a huge way. After dropping his first game to Alexander Ma at No. 9, Egan came back to win the next three games 6,9,8 to win the match.
"This was one of the most exciting matches I have ever played because I knew it was the first shift's responsibility to set the tone for the match," said Egan. "My opponent put on a great performance, and I was very grateful to come out with a win for the team."
"I was really happy for Ash to see how well he played," Callahan said. "As for Tyler, I don't think we really know just how good he is yet. He just keeps going out there and beating very good players. It's very impressive."
Harvard's Tyler Olson scored a 3-1 win over Clay Blackiston at No. 6 to get the Crimson within 2-1, but Princeton doubled its advantage during the middle shift. Princeton freshman Samuel Kang, who is matching Osborne win for win during his freshman season, scored a 3-0 win over Nigel Koh at No. 5. Harvard's Julian Kirby held off a hard-charging Steve Harrington in five games at the No. 8 spot, though Harrington showed a lot of fight in rallying from a 2-0 hole.
As for a show of fight, Princeton got plenty of that from senior co-captain Chris Callis. The 2009 All-America spent the last two injury-riddled seasons never quite finding his form, but he is fit and healthy this season, and the proof has been in the results. He topped the previously undefeated Brandon McLaughlin 3-0, and he did so while dropping only 12 points in the entire match.
"It's great to see Chris play like this," Callahan said. "He has been everything we needed this year, and he played a terrific match today."
That left Princeton in need of only one more match, and considering that both Harrity and fellow 2011 All-America Kelly Shannon were left on the court, that seemed like a safe bet.
But not all was as it seemed Sunday. Harrity faced Farag, who is well-known in the squash community but not as much in the collegiate game. Farag sat for the first nine matches while his eligibility was reviewed (and ultimately confirmed) because of appearances he made in several international tournaments before his admittance to Harvard. He made his debut Saturday, and he made a national splash Sunday with a 7,(6),(11),6,4 win over Harrity, who had entered the match with 26 straight collegiate wins.
Shannon iss coming back from an injury and had only played one match since November, so Harvard's Nicholas Hopcroft was able to outlast him in three games at the No. 4 position.
That left Ward, who played all of two varsity matches last season and had never faced as pressure-packed a collegiate match as he did Sunday. Against Scherl, he dropped a 13-11 opening game, but rallied for an 11-6 win in the second. He had the late answers for a 13-11 win in the third and finished the match 11-8 in the fourth.
Princeton is now 8-0, 3-0 in the Ivy League, and will take two and a half weeks off for Finals before returning to the court Feb.1 to begin what could be its most exciting month in years. Princeton will need to be fresh immediately, as it returns against No. 1 Trinity that Wednesday, then follows three days later at home against two-time Ivy champion and current No. 2 Yale (12 pm).
#3 Princeton 5, #5 Harvard 4
1) Ali Farag (H) d. Todd Harrity 7,(6),(11),6,4
2) Chris Callis (P) d. Brandon McLaughlin 6,3,3
3) Tyler Osborne (P) d. Gary Power 9,7,8
4) Nicholas Hopcroft (H) d. Kelly Shannon 6,6,6
5) Samuel Kang (P) d. Nigel Koh 8,10,6
6) Tyler Olson (H) d. Clay Blackiston (9),5,5,8
7) Dylan Ward (P) d. Zeke Scherl (11),6,11,8
8) Julian Kirby (H) d. Steve Harrington 9,2,(6),(9),8
9) Ash Egan (P) d. Alexander Ma (2),6,9,8