Excerpts from A History of Harvard Squash

Men’s Team Rallies To Capture 1962 Ivy League Title


   The Harvard men’s squash team was dead in the water on this dreary, frigid late-February 1962 afternoon in New Haven, and everyone shoehorned into the undersized gallery on the fourth floor of Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium knew it. One year earlier, in 1960-61, the Crimson, captained at the time by future U. S. National Security Advisor Tony Lake and having lost the top five players from the 1960 Ivy League championship team to graduation, had come incredibly close to completing and culminating what would have been a miracle undefeated season before falling agonizingly short in a 5-4 loss to Yale in which several airtight matches, including Lake’s, had barely slipped away. Now, with the Ivy League title yet again coming down to the season-ending Harvard-Yale meet between the two undefeated arch-rivals, the Yale formula that had worked so well all season was once again playing out exactly as the Elis, top-heavy with stand-out products of the venerable Merion Cricket Club junior program, had laid it out.

   All year long Yale had successfully relied on its powerful top trio of Ralph Howe (who would capture the Intercollegiate Individual title that year and the next), Bob Hetherington and George West to sweep the Nos. 1-3 slots. They also knew that they had a guaranteed win in senior three-year letterman and former No. 5 player Joe Holmes at No. 9, which meant that they only had to pick up one match in the Nos. 4-8 slots to clinch the team outcome. They had already gotten the expected wins from Howe, Hetherington and West, as well as the needed mid-lineup victory from Fred Smith, who edged out John Vinton by a single point at No. 7.

   For their part, the Harvard players, beset by illness for much of the season (with three of their number, including captain Roger Wiegand, felled for long stretches by mononucleosis), had mustered four wins of their own, including one by Wiegand after he trailed Yale’s Charlie Frank 2-0, 14-11, to deadlock the team tally at four matches apiece. But in the last remaining match on court, at No. 9, the dependable and undefeated Holmes, a talented racquets man in several sports and later an eight-time national age-group platform-tennis champion, three-time national squash tennis doubles champion and two-time national squash tennis singles runner-up, though surprisingly pushed to a fifth game (after leading two games to love) by Crimson sophomore John Francis, had inexorably marched to a commanding 11-6 lead. The outcome, and with it a second straight undefeated season, Ivy League title and 5-4 win over Harvard, now seemed well in hand.

   Certainly no one in the arena, not the visibly confident Elis (including in particular one young woman in front who was wearing a Yale scarf and boisterously cheering every time Holmes added to his tally), not the increasingly discouraged Harvard supporters, and not anyone else, could have possibly sensed it at the time, but in the nine spellbinding points that followed, all of which landed in Francis’s column, a dynasty of unequaled proportions would be born, the history and trend of the most venerated rivalry in college squash would be permanently transformed, and the legend of the greatest coach in the annals of college squash would be burnished to a degree that still reverberates today, more than a half-century later. Francis’s nine-point run to glory jump-started a Harvard dual-meet winning streak over Yale that would span TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS, as well as a 15-year skein from 1962-76 in which the Crimson teams, led by their bespectacled and avuncular but peerless coach John Morton “Jack” Barnaby II, who retired at the end of that 1975-76 campaign, would earn either the regular-season NCAA nine-man national championship or the postseason six-man championship, later christened the Potter Cup, or (usually) both. Never before or since has a college squash program accomplished this feat over such a lengthy time span.

    By the time Francis’s match ended, he had become so overcome by ecstasy blended with exhaustion as to render him nearly incoherent for a few moments. He would become a legendary figure in his own right by again displaying his penchant for season-rescuing eleventh-hour comebacks two years later when, as a senior, he rallied, this time at No. 8, from 10-14 to 17-14 against Cuthbert “Cuffy” Train in the deciding match of Harvard’s season-defining 1964 5-4 victory over Princeton. In both matches Francis relied heavily on his hard serve (which he would “save” for crisis moments) to key those late-fifth-game comebacks. In both matches he benefited by the several errors each of his opponents committed as the momentum swung against them. And in the Holmes match he wouldn’t have even played at No. 9 had he not barely (15-14 in the fifth) survived a challenge match against No. 10 player Clark Grew just prior to the Yale meet.


   In a way it was poetic justice that Francis, who forever afterwards would be affectionately referred to by Barnaby as “my clutch player,” emerged from that 1962 clash with Yale sporting the hero’s mantle. Barnaby more than any other coach recognized that a win at No. 9 counted just as much as a win at No. 1, and he consciously made a point of boosting his lower-tier players in accordance with a philosophy of “coaching deep” that made everyone in the Crimson program truly feel like an important member of the team, no matter their position on the varsity ladder. Barnaby is best known to history for the extraordinary numbers that his teams compiled during his nearly 40 years at the helm --- 17 national crowns, 16 Ivy League titles, 10 postseason six-man championships, 378 wins, a .929 winning percentage (91-7) in Ivy League competition. Eight of his players (namely Kim Canavarro in ’40, Henry Foster in ’51, Charlie Ufford in ’52 and ’53, Ben Heckscher in ’56 and ’57, Victor Niederhoffer in ’64, Anil Nayar in ’67, ’68 and ’69, Larry Terrell in ’70 and Peter Briggs in ’72 and ’73) won a total of 13 Intercollegiate Individual championships, and four members of that octet  --- Heckscher, Niederhoffer, Nayar and Briggs --- went on to win the U. S. Nationals as well.

    But these statistics, compelling as they are as measurements of Barnaby’s coaching accomplishments --- while contemporaneously guiding the men’s varsity tennis team as well throughout that four-decade span to a 371-158 record and six Eastern Intercollegiate Tennis Association  (EITA)/Ivy League titles --- barely scratch the surface of how many lives he deeply affected, how far his influence extended, how he reveled in the achievements of “supporting cast”  players like Francis, whose successes meant at least as much, perhaps more, to him as those of his superstars, and how enduring and inspirational a legacy he had created by the time he passed away in February 2002 at the age of 92. He is survived by Charlotte, his wife of 61 years (known as Chussy, and still alive at age 98 as of this Spring 2014 writing), and their three children, John Robbins “Rob” Barnaby, Charles Spencer “Chip” Barnaby and Margaret Bouton Barnaby, as well as one grand-child, Nicholas Robbins Barnaby, the son of Chip and his wife, Cynthia Birr.

    Briggs singled out Coach Barnaby as the only constant in his life during the turbulent period of the late-1960’s and early-1970’s while the Vietnam war raged, the civil rights movement convulsed American youth and a host of other contentious issues roiled every college campus in America. Glenn Whitman, who as a member of the class of ’74 succeeded Briggs as captain and whose runner-up finish in that year’s Intercollegiate championship marked the eighth time in a nine-year period in which a Harvard player reached this tournament’s final, praised the freedom which Jack granted to his players to integrate their commitment to the squash team into the larger context of their overall liberal arts educational experience at Harvard.

    Dinny Adams ’66 admiringly noted his coach’s unique ability to develop players of widely varying traits, maximizing each player’s potential and talents --- an especially meaningful statement coming from a player who, despite having what he described as somewhat limited athletic skills, played No. 1, won many matches for Harvard, served as team captain and later made it into the top 10 in the United States Squash Racquets Association (USSRA) rankings. He also played No. 1 on the first American team entered in the World Team Championships in softball in Johannesburg in 1973.

    Jay Nelson ’62, who went undefeated during his two varsity seasons and contributed a key win to that 5-4 dynasty-launching ’62 victory over Yale, later earning more than 25 national age-group titles, related how heavily his mentor’s obvious respect for the game had influenced the way Nelson himself came to view a sport that he had previously under-valued. And Dave Fish ’72, captain of the Harvard squads in both squash and tennis, who courageously succeeded Barnaby as head coach of both programs and went on to compile an enormously impressive record in his own right, marveled at the extraordinary and rare blend of professorial sophistication and boyish enthusiasm that imbued his role model’s attitude throughout Jack’s seven decades of direct association with Harvard racquet sports.

Women’s Team Wins 2003 Ivy League Title


    Trinity College’s margin of victory over Harvard and everybody else would be far more substantial the following year, when Bartlett’s lineup subdued Harvard 8-1 in the dual meet and then raced through the Howe Cup with a trio of 9-0 shut-outs. The final was over Yale, which hosted the event that year and which recorded its first win over Harvard since 1992, and a decisive one at that, in an 8-1 semifinal blow-out in which Stephanie Hendricks notched the only Crimson point at No. 9. Stung by the fact and dimension of this setback, the Harvard women, after first taking the third-place match 7-2 over Penn, embarked on a furious albeit time-compressed effort to get revenge in the looming dual meet with Yale just four days later at the Murr Center that would determine which team would be crowned the 2003 Ivy League champion.

   In reliving the team-wide level of commitment that engulfed those interim days, Hendricks recalled how normally the team had Monday off after a full weekend of matches, but in this case everyone showed up for practice early Monday afternoon ready to go, with co-captain Louisa Hall, who had lost to Eli freshman sensation Michelle Quibell, especially revved up. She had won a major invitational tournament at the Harvard Club of New York in mid-January, defeating Shebana Khan, Quibell and reigning three-time U. S. National champion Latasha Khan in the process, but her game had lost some of its edge as she sustained four losses (to Amina Helal and Penn’s Runa Reta in dual-meet play and to Quibell and to Reta in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Howe Cup) during the interceding month, and she was eager to regain her top form in time for the rematch with the gifted Quibell, whose South African-born mother had been a squash professional and who had won a number of U. S. National Junior titles prior to entering Yale.

   As if the prospect of winning another Ivy League title and avenging a recent one-sided defeat wasn’t enough motivation, the team was unintentionally supplied a further spur shortly prior to the beginning of the match by the mother of one of the Yale players, who in anticipation of what would have been Yale’s first Ivy League crown in several decades, baked cupcakes which she brought to the arena. Each of them had white topping with a single blue letter, and when properly arranged the cupcakes’ letters spelled out “Yale Ivy League Champions.” One of the Harvard players happened to see the array of cupcakes and relayed the news to her teammates in the locker room, further charging the competitive atmosphere, which in any case by all accounts was nothing short of electric all night long, especially as the women’s match was reaching its airtight culmination in a charged confrontation in which the areas of comparative strength between the two rosters were exceptionally starkly drawn.

   Yale swept the Nos. 3-6 spots, in each case by a 3-0 score, but Harvard picked up wins at Nos. 7-9, with both co-captain Ella Witcher at No. 7 and freshman Alison Fast at No. 8 reversing their recent losses to Lauren Doline and Devon Dalzell respectively, and Hendricks again out-playing Ruth Kelley at No. 9. “Stephanie has been a rock for us,” Coach Bajwa later said of Hendricks, who lost only one match that whole season. Harvard No. 2 Lindsey Wilkins, who had lost a bitterly-fought 10-8 fifth game to Yale’s highly-touted freshman Amy Gross (the two had had a not-especially-friendly rivalry dating back to their high-school years in Philadelphia), in which she had been playing from behind throughout after dropping the first two games, this time jumped out early and never looked back en route to 9-3, 7 and 4.

   Witcher’s win, in what Bajwa afterwards praised as “a captain’s match,” evened the overall team score at four points apiece, leaving the outcome in the hands of the two respective superstars and longtime crown jewels of USSRA junior squash Hall and Quibell, with both sets of parents present (the Quibells flew up from Atlanta and Matt Hall ’67, who had played as high as No. 4 on Jack Barnaby’s championship teams during the mid-1960’s, and his wife Anne drove from suburban Philadelphia). The energy level in that Hall-Quibell match was extraordinary, both on court and in the gallery, as both players competed at their absolute limit, all the while demonstrating superb sportsmanship in a memorable exhibition of women’s college squash at its best.

   Even in failing to convert a game-ball opportunity in the first game, which she then lost 10-8, Hall was stroking the ball with tremendous authority, and she surged through a 9-0 second game and then from 3-6 to 9-6 in the third. The fourth was close all the way and marked by a number of extended mid-game sequences with no change in the score. Quibell earned an 8-6 advantage but Hall rallied to force the game into a tiebreaker. At 9-8, Hall was unable to convert her first match-ball, but she got the serve back and made good on the second with a forehand working-boast from deep in the right part of the court that a diving Quibell failed to retrieve and tossed her racquet skyward in exasperation. In fairness to the precocious Eli freshman (who would subsequently lead Yale to a school-record three consecutive Howe Cups while herself copping the Individuals crown in 2004 and 2005), she coped admirably with the consistent pressure of Hall’s relentless attack and had several streaks of shot-making excellence that kept her in the match and brought her to the very edge of what would have been a nerve-racking fifth game for everyone involved.

    In a post-match interview, Baj paid tribute to his star player when he asserted, “It was always in the cards that Hall was going to pull a big one out.” Jubilant at this victory, and the 10th Ivy League crown in 12 years for the Harvard women that it secured, the team then marked this milestone several hours later by “streaking” around a section of Harvard Yard late that night, as one team member put it, “in honor of Primal Scream, which none of us had participated in during January finals. Never a dull moment with the squash ladies!”

   It was to be the last moment of unconstrained celebration for Hall and the Harvard women’s squash team for some time to come, as the following week Hall was decked with a bad enough case of the flu to keep her out of the Individuals at Trinity, where Helal successfully defended her 2002 crown, beating Quibell in the semis and Reta in the final. None of Hall’s teammates were able to advance past the quarterfinals. Throughout the following few years, as noted, Yale, with Quibell, Gross, Frances Ho et al continuing to grow as players and a host of talented recruits joining them as well (especially Kat McLeod, a New Zealander, whose presence in the top three made the team even stronger), reigned supreme in Howe Cup competition. By the end of the 2003-04 season, the Yale contingent had become so deep and imposing that their captain Devon Dalzell, who had played in the top three her freshman year, was no longer even in the starting nine.