Excerpts from A History Of Harvard Squash During The Mike Way Coaching Era (2010-2021)

The Home Stretch Of The Men’s 2012-13 Season

    By the time the Elis arrived at the Barnaby Courts six days later, it was known that whichever team won would thereby finish in a first-place tie with Princeton for the Ivy League title since a few days earlier the Tigers had lost 5-4 to Cornell. The evening began with a tribute to seniors Scherl,  Michas, Ma,  Cabot and McKean, who were saluted for the dedication and work ethic they had demonstrated throughout their college careers. When play began, Harvard got wins during the first two shifts from freshman Matt Roberts over Yale No. 9 Joey Roberts (no relation), McLaughlin over Bulldog captain Hywel Robinson and Koh, who battled Yale No. 3 Richard Dodd on even terms through four games and then astonishingly won the fifth 11-0.

    Michas, who had heretofore gone undefeated throughout the season while recording significant wins over Penn’s Tyler Odell, Princeton’s David Hoffman and Trinity’s Moustafa Hamada, took a two games to one lead over Yale No. 8 Charlie Wyatt. Though forced to deal with lower-back problems dating back to the beginning of his sophomore year, Michas had learned to adapt to this situation well enough by his senior year to have become one of the most dependable members on the team. But he suffered a severe pull of his right hamstring at the very end of the third game, rendering him practically immobile through the final two games (both of which he lost 11-4) and sidelining him for the remainder of the season, a disappointing ending for this two-time captain whose passion and leadership skills made him a favorite of both his teammates and coach. With the two teams tied at 3-3 going into the final shift, Farag held Yale No. 1 Kenny Chan to 10 total points and Scherl then sealed the team outcome with a praiseworthy four-game win over Yale No. 7 Eric Caine, following which Power made the final score 6-3 by rallying past Yale No. 2 Neil Martin, 11-6 in the fifth.

  It was the first time that Harvard’s men’s team had won at least a share of the Ivy League pennant since 2006, and when the Potter Cup competition began at Yale five days later, the same three Harvard players --- Farag, Power and Scherl --- who had finished off the Bulldogs similarly broke a 3-3 tie by sweeping their matches against Rochester. Waiting for the Crimson in the semis were the defending Potter Cup champion Tigers, whose revered Coach Bob Callahan had been diagnosed with a lethal form of brain cancer the previous spring and was known to be in his final season as Princeton’s coach. As noted, each of the last two times these teams had met, Princeton had won 5-4, and right from the outset, after the Tigers had had an emotional team meeting in Callahan’s hotel room the previous evening, this battle also seemed destined for a 5-4 conclusion in one direction or another. Princeton held a 2-1 lead after the opening shift, but Harvard swept the second shift, with  Roberts eking out a 17-15 win in the fourth and final game of his match with Hoffman and McLaughlin coming up with a magnificent 11-6, 16-14, 11-6 win over Princeton No. 2 Samuel Kang.

    With four matches in the books and the heretofore invincible Farag about to step on court to seal the deal, Harvard appeared to be fully in the driver’s seat. But, remarkably, Todd Harrity responded to the exigencies of the moment with the best performance of his career, winning in an airtight four games by a score of 11-8, 9-11, 11-8, 11-9. “I really enjoy playing him,” Harrity said after his reflex forehand volley to perfect length down the right wall that ended a long all-court exchange at match ball had put an exclamation point on the upset. “It was a big accomplishment for me because I’ve never beaten him before. Last time we played, even though I got a game, I felt like he was a level above me. So I feel like I kind of proved myself and proved that I’m on that level.” His teammate Dylan Ward said about Harrity’s win, “Todd had talked to me about how much this meant to him. It’s his last tournament, his last big event as a squash player in college, and he really wanted to go out showing that he was, and is, Number One, and he could go out with a big win for the team.” Harrity’s co-captain and fellow Philadelphian Harrington, who had been playing with Harrity ever since the pair opposed each other in the final round of the 2003 U. S. Under-13’s 10 years earlier, later said that he never felt more proud of Harrity than he did watching the unbelievably high-quality match with Farag that day.


   When Harrity finished off his landmark win and Princeton No. 7 Vivek Dinodia then beat  Scherl 3-0, it tied the team score at 4-all, leaving the outcome to the No. 4 match between Power and Ward. By that stage, Princeton had during the past 18 months won so many airtight dual meets with clutch performances --- especially by Ward, who had won the deciding match against Harvard in both the 2012 and 2013 dual meets and who also, as mentioned, had contributed a crucial last-shift win in the 2012 Potter Cup final --- that it almost seemed ordained that the Tigers would pull this one out as well and reach the Potter Cup final for a second straight year and sixth time in eight years. Ward knew before the meet even began that he might well be playing the deciding match yet again. “It’s been interesting playing that role on the team, and I guess I’ve sort of embraced it recently,” he said earlier in the day. He took the first game 11-6 and seemed to have taken a commanding lead after also winning the second 12-10. The Princeton players, who knew how talented and determined Power was but also had great confidence in Ward’s competitive spirit, were hanging on every point and could almost taste the victory.

     The court was very hot and both players were hitting the ball deep and rarely going for shots. Both had been exceptional cross-country runners in high school, and both had become successful college players primarily by imposing their game and wearing opponents down. There were dozens of lets and a number of arguments with the referee. There was increasingly little shot-making as the two players battled in close quarters to the bitter end, mostly on the left wall, where every inch of court was severely contested. Ward later said the match, which lasted just over two torturous hours, had the feel of a marathon that might never end, and the score seesawed along very slowly.

   For Farag, who was heartsick at the thought that he had failed to come through when his team was on the verge of reaching its first Potter Cup final in the eight years since Harvard had last done so in 2005, it definitely felt like a marathon that would never end, and he later described the time that elapsed between the end of his match and the end of the Power/Ward match as the longest 50 minutes of his life. The difference between the two players was almost indecipherable, just an extra tin or an extra nick, usually at the end of a lengthy and brutal exchange. Ultimately Power was able to gradually but inexorably assert himself, winning each of the last three games 11-7 to seal Harvard’s advance to the final as the Princeton players watched in dismay from their vantage point just behind the court’s glass back wall. When the final ball (a shallow forehand cross-court winner off Power’s racquet that nicked on the left wall in front of Ward) had been struck, most of the Harvard players ran onto the court to embrace Power, but Farag, exhausted more emotionally from his time trembling in the gallery than physically by his match with Harrity, didn’t even have the energy to join them.

  Afterwards, Coach Way was effusive when asked about Power’s comeback. “I’ve only been here three seasons but that was the biggest moment I’ve ever seen,” he declared. “That moment will never be forgotten. Farag had taken a big loss and our captain (i.e. Michas) was out with an injury, and so at that time we were not looking good at all. For Gary to come out and do what he did was absolutely heroic. He’s probably the fittest guy in college squash. There’s nobody more determined, and if you put determination in a beast like that, you’re going to get something quite awesome. You have to have intense concentration to do it for that long, since many rallies were 60 to 80 shots and the concentration has to be there.”

   Several players chimed in on Power’s win as well, describing him as “the kind of player who you know will never give up and you always want playing in the last match that you can count on to pull through,” according to freshman Jake Matthews. Mullaney, who had risen to the No. 6 spot by that stage of the season, echoed Matthews’s point when he said that, “If there is one guy on our team whom we would want to be playing the last match on court, it would be Gary.” Power himself said that he was “just trying to get back and push us into the final. With so many other people riding on it, I was keeping my head in the game and trying to focus on my next swing. That helped more than anything else.”Astonishingly, of the 10 Harvard players who competed in that semifinal (including No. 10 Samuel Goldberg, who beat Princeton’s Ash Egan after losing to him in the dual meet), no fewer than eight --- Farag, McLaughlin, Power, Olson, Mullaney, Scherl, Roberts and Goldberg --- had a reversed won-lost result that day from what had happened in the dual meet.

  Even after such a rollercoaster semifinal, the Crimson got off to a great start in the Sunday summit against Trinity by taking two of the three matches in the opening shift. Ma, capping off an undefeated weekend throughout which he had responded brilliantly to the challenge of moving into the starting nine due to Michas’s injury, defeated Trinity No. 9 Matt Mackin in four games, finishing Mackin off with a flourish when he smashed a forehand that rolled out of the front-left nick. One of Trinity’s mottoes throughout their decade-and-a-half-long domination of college squash had been “We win at No. 9,” which indeed had been the case in all but two of its past 14 consecutive Potter Cup finals (the exceptions having occurred in 2009 and 2011) prior to what Ma accomplished. Though somewhat inconsistent during much of his college career, Ma came up big in this tournament, and afterwards he expressed his gratitude at having been allowed to be part of the Harvard squash tradition and to all the former Harvard players who had traveled to New Haven to support the team. “It meant a lot to be trusted by my teammates and go up and represent Harvard in such an important match and by all the alums who haven’t been in that place in so long,” he said. “Harvard has a rich tradition in squash and as a senior I made it my goal to reward everyone for their hard work.”

    In the other two first-shift matches, Mullaney, who had nearly beaten Detter (before losing the fifth game 12-10) in the dual meet, this time lost to him in four games, but at No. 3, Koh, trailing Miled Zarazua 10-8 in the fifth game, ran off four straight points. In what was later universally deemed the defining match of the day, McLaughlin, who had played brilliantly the day before against Kang and had been a five-game winner over Trinity No. 2 Juan Vargas in the dual meet between these schools two weeks earlier, took the first game of their rematch and led 8-4 in the second. At that juncture, the mathematics of the competitive terrain appeared to be closing in on the Trinity camp. With two points already on the Harvard ledger and Farag a sure bet to win his third-shift match with Bantam No. 1 Reinhold Hergeth (which Farag did without yielding more than five points in any of the three games), if McLaughlin could convert his substantial mid-match advantage, it would have put his team in the position of needing to win only one of the other four matches to clinch the national championship.


   But Vargas rallied to win that game 12-10, setting off a huge roar from the decidedly pro-Trinity crowd filled with the multiple busloads of students who had made the convenient half-hour trip from Hartford to New Haven. Included in the blue-and-yellow-clad sea of Trinity sea of supporters were Vargas’s older brother Andres, a four-year starter on championship Trinity College squash teams who at the time was serving as the team’s assistant coach, and Raul Vargas, their father, who had traveled to New Haven from Colombia to attend the tournament. By winning that second game, Juan Vargas administered both a statistical and psychological blow from which neither McLaughlin (who then lost the next two games 11-5, 11-6) nor his teammates were able to recover. The Bantams swept the second shift (with Kotian and Hamada earning 3-0 wins over Olson and Roberts respectively) to go up 4-2, then got their needed fifth point when their No. 6 player Elshorafy duplicated his regular-season win over Scherl. In the day’s final two matches, by which time the team outcome had been decided, Power lost, 11-8 in the fifth (after leading two games to one), to Trinity No. 4 Karan Malik and Farag, as mentioned, straight-gamed Hergeth to account for the final 6-3 score.

   Asked afterwards what enabled him to reverse the course of a match he had been losing, even Vargas had trouble identifying a cause. “I’m not quite sure what made me turn in that match, but I do remember there was a click inside of me halfway through the second game, and I suddenly started feeling confident and full of energy. The crowd was going wild outside and I was feeding off of that. I managed to switch my mentality and started getting on top of Brandon, becoming more aggressive and taking the initiative of attacking while still grinding and getting him tired from constantly being on defense. I could see his frustration, which was unusual, as he was normally pretty composed, and I was feeding off of that too. Once I won that second game, I became so focused that I didn’t really notice in detail all that was going on outside. I just remember thinking there was no way I was going to let him win since that would mean we could lose the final as a team. My brother’s coaching obviously helped and he knew how to keep me calm when I was down and that was crucial too!”


A Trinity College senior named Marc DiBenedetto, who had traveled with the team on road trips and assiduously chronicled its journey throughout that season as part of an independent study class credit, produced a 55-minute documentary entitled “All In,” which he presented to Trinity’s men’s and women’s teams at the school’s Cinestudio that spring (the film later attracted lots of viewers on Youtube). In the credits at the end of the film, he thanked Coach Assaiante and the entire Bantam team “for helping me pursue my passion.” Because of how committed and involved a figure he had been --- showing up for virtually every practice and dual meet with his omnipresent camera --- throughout Trinity’s successful mission to regain the Potter Cup after relinquishing it to Princeton in 2012, DiBenedetto was viewed by the team members as one of them (“He definitely added value,” Andres Vargas asserted) and was therefore one of the recipients when the championship rings were handed out to the players at their end-of-season banquet.

   After graduating that spring, DiBenedetto got a job at Fox Sports in Los Angeles, where he worked for a few years before then taking his current position with NESN, the New England Sports Network, which covers all Boston-area sports teams. He is convinced that it was the “All In” documentary that got him the job offer from Fox, and, when asked about the 2013 Potter Cup final nearly a decade later, he declared that, although in his professional career he has covered Super Bowls, World Series games, the NCAA Basketball Tournament and a host of other marquee sporting events, a number of which have come down to the final play, nothing he has ever been associated with has even come close to making him as nervous, as excited, as adrenalized or ultimately as exhilarated as he felt that day at Yale’s overflowing Brady Squash Center as he filmed the battle between Harvard and Trinity College for supremacy in men’s college squash.  “I think back on making that film often,” said DiBenedetto, whose continuing loyalty to Trinity College is fully exemplified by the fact that his year of graduation to this day (eight years after the fact) is embedded in his email address. “It was the starting point of my whole career and will always mean a great deal to me.”

  Farag’s post-match comments paid full respect to what Trinity had achieved, but with a touch of defiance thrown in as well. “Trinity is a lot better prepared than any other team,” he acknowledged. “They took the title home, but they were more lucky and determined today. I think it could have gone either way, but we couldn’t get the last two matches that we needed. I have mixed feelings about today’s match. I think the whole season we had the goal of winning and also we persevered. This will make us nothing but stronger and harder to beat next year. I think nobody will want to play against us next year,” he concluded. “We were much more professional this year and we will be even better and more professional next year.” Trinity then hosted the Individuals, but all of its players were so spent from the effort they had expended in regaining the Potter Cup crown that not one of them was able to win his first-round match. The semifinals of the men’s draw consisted of Harrity and three Egyptians, namely Farag, Khalifa, a freshman at St. Lawrence that year, and Bates College freshman Ahmed Abdel Khalek. Harrity’s win over Khalek was fairly straightforward, but the Farag-Khalifa semi was a classic. The pair had been playing each other ever since their childhood days in the very early 2000’s, frequently in the final rounds of junior tournaments in Egypt.

  When Farag won his first junior tournament in 2002, his final-round opponent had been Khalifa, when Khalifa won his first junior tournament shortly thereafter, his final-round opponent had been Farag. They had been trading off ever since, with neither player winning more than a few matches in a row before the other returned the favor. Tragically, in one of their finals a few years after their rivalry began, Khalifa’s father, an avid recreational squash player who was seated in the front row, suffered a fatal heart attack right in the middle of the match. The Farag-Khalifa match in Hartford seesawed late into the fifth game, at which juncture Farag, leading 10-8 (double-match-ball) surrendered the next two points and wound up losing 13-11. The differing courses of the two semifinals seemed to favor Harrity, but Khalifa was able to win the final, 11-4, 11-6, 13-11, to become the first Individuals winner from neither the Ivy League nor Trinity in the 24 years since Scott Dulmage of Western Ontario had won the 1989 final over Princeton’s Jeff Stanley.

A Team Trip To Colombia in 2019


  The team drew inspiration from a number of other sources as well throughout the fall and winter, one of which for sure was a trip that both the men’s and women’s teams made in early January to Cartagena, Colombia, where they spent a week at Squash Urbano Colombia, that country’s counterpart to the Squash and Education Alliance (SEA) organizations that had proliferated in many major American cities during the past two decades. Its Executive Director, Esteban Espinal, had spent a year in Toronto as a 16-year-old two decades earlier while training under Coach Way’s aegis at the Toronto Racquet Club in preparation to represent Colombia in the biennial World Junior Championships in Milan in 2000. (One of his teammates in that event was Bernardo Samper, who two years later won the 2002 Intercollegiate Individuals as a freshman at Trinity.)  Espinal then played on the PSA tour for a few years before getting a job at CitySquash in the Bronx from 2009-2014, where he eventually was promoted to Squash Director. In 2014, he moved back to Colombia and launched Squash Urbano Colombia.

   He and Coach Way had kept in touch throughout that time, and the two of them collaborated in organizing this team visit. Squash Urbano Colombia had six singles courts and one softball doubles court. The team trained on the courts during the morning and then coached the kids (who ranged in age from 9 to 16) during the afternoon. There was a roof above the courts, but they were otherwise open-air, and the temperature became so hot and humid in midday that once Coach Way had to call a premature halt to the practice session out of concern that his players would become dehydrated. The courts also had to be mopped every few hours to prevent dust from accumulating. The huge villa (three floors and a rooftop swimming pool) where they stayed was located close to the town square of the Old City of Cartagena, right next-door to a very active nightclub, from which loud noises emanated until well after midnight every night. After a mostly sleepless first night, the team members acquired ear plugs, which enabled them to get some sleep during the remainder of their visit.

   Brownell missed the first two days of the trip since he had received a wild-card spot into the main draw of the Tournament of Champions, having won a tournament at Chelsea Piers a few weeks earlier to determine which American player would get that entry. His first-round match was played on the four-glass-wall portable court in Grand Central Station and he was thrilled at being in such a high-profile environment and knowing that people from all over the world were watching his match, which was being streamed on Squash TV. He actually won his first game against Youssef Soliman, who was ranked just outside the top 30 in the PSA standings, before eventually losing 3-1 (in a fourth-game tiebreaker) --- but, even though by the time the match ended it was 9pm, Brownell’s night was just beginning. Immediately after the match ended, he had to race off to Kennedy Airport for a post-midnight flight to Panama City and a connecting flight from there that landed at Cartagena at 7am. He then discovered that he had no internet capacity and did not know how to get from the airport to the Old City.

   He happened to be wearing a Red Sox baseball cap and fortunately ran into an airport employee who followed major league baseball, sparking a conversation --- since Spanish had been one of Brownell’s favorite subjects in high school and he even received a citation for his proficiency in that subject at Harvard --- that led to the employee driving Brownell to the town square, at which point a homeless person selling soccer jerseys was able to direct him to the house where his teammates were eating breakfast at the time their weary co-captain arrived. They had all watched Brownell’s Tournament of Champions match on a large TV in the villa the night before and complimented him on how well he had played against Soliman. Indeed, even before Brownell boarded his flight out of JFK, his teammates had sent him a video of them watching his match and applauding enthusiastically after he had won the first game. It was a fortuitous “all’s well that ends well” conclusion to a very adventurous 15 hours that began with Brownell playing squash in one of the most prestigious events on the PSA tour in one of the most famous buildings in America and ended with him exhausted, dehydrated, on a different continent and reaching his destination aided in some measure by a baseball cap and with the final part of his guidance being provided by a homeless person who spoke no English.

   The kids at Squash Urbano Colombia were incredibly enthusiastic and a mutual bond was very quickly and strongly  formed between themselves and the Harvard student-athletes, who even learned some Spanish from the youngsters (a number of whom could speak reasonably good English as well) as the week progressed. The team members were only obligated to coach the kids for an hour or two during the afternoons, but many of them stayed and continued their coaching well after that time, as did Coach Way, who often was still coaching as dusk fell. The interaction with the kids was uplifting, while also at times being disheartening, as when one of them mentioned that two of his older brothers had been killed in gang violence when they were still teenagers. On one afternoon the team went on a boat trip to Rosario Island, where the view was, according to Kennedy, “stunning.” The boat took them close to see what had been the compound which Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug kingpin, had used as the headquarters for his operation. When at the suggestion of the guide, a number of the players donned snorkeling equipment and jumped into the water, they saw a damaged plane at the bottom, which according to the guide had been shot down at Escobar’s behest. 

   News of the visit got around Cartagena so quickly that, towards the end of the week, the local newspaper El Universal sent several of its reporters and a cameraman to interview Way and Espinal and write a major article about the entire expedition. There was at least one memorable evening rooftop conditioning session that Coach Way labeled “lung-burners,” consisting of jumps, lunges, push-ups and sprints, very short but extremely intense, with the goal of “firing the lungs” to recreate what the lungs go through during a grueling squash point. Crouin also led the team in a special workout routine, which he called “a common French strength exercise focusing on lunges and what we call the ‘magic square’ because we imagine a tee in front of us and work on an explosive first step in all six directions. In addition, Alexi led a couple of plyometric and balance exercises in the mornings to reinforce the ankles because several team members, including Alexi himself, were dealing with minor ankle injuries at the time.”


   On the final day before the teams departed, the youngsters gave bracelets with the colors of Colombia’s flag (red, yellow and blue) to the players as a token of their appreciation, and many of the Harvard players wore the bracelets for weeks thereafter, in some cases right through to the end of the season, as a sort of good-luck charm and to show solidarity with the kids they had taught. In fact, in the trophy lineup after both the men’s and women’s teams won their respective national team championships, a number of the players were photographed wearing their bracelets. One of them was Kayley Leonard, for whom the week in Cartagena was especially meaningful, both because she had previously tutored inner-city kids at CitySquash during her high school years, and because the visit represented a chance to reunite and have a kind of reciprocal full-circle moment with Espinal, since nearly a decade earlier he had actually been the coach of Leonard’s middle school squash team at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, which had its practice sessions at the nearby Club 800 in Westchester, where Espinal was based at the time. The fact that Leonard also spoke some Spanish was part of why she was a favorite among the Colombia kids, who gave her a pierced earring on the last day. The trip was by all accounts incredibly culturally rewarding and one that, according to Coach Way, “will have a lasting impact.” Amina Yousry said that, by the time the trip ended, she thought of her teammates as part of her family, thoughts that Sam Scherl referenced as well when he spoke of how both teams came closer together both within each team and between the teams during the week that they shared in that setting.

The Home Stretch Of The Women’s 2019-20 Season

20 IN 2020

  It was equally meaningful for the quartet of Harvard women seniors --- co-captains Gina Kennedy and Amelia Henley, along with Eleonore Evans and Annika Engstrom --- to emulate what Abouaish, Hughes and Brownell had accomplished by having a college swan-song championship season as well, and they did so, albeit barely and only after coming within two points of having their career-long undefeated streak brought to an end by an ascendant Princeton team which visited the Murr Center in early January and nearly pulled off what would have been a huge upset. No team could have lost players of the caliber of Sobhy, Leonard (each of whom had spent her entire career at or near the top of the lineup) and Sophie Mehta without becoming at least a little more vulnerable, and everyone on the squad recognized that, as Craig phrased it, “We don’t have as much margin for error, so we all have to make sure we’re really ready to play our best in every match.”

  Harvard came into the dual meet with Princeton knowing that a win would be the team’s 70th in a row, tying the all-time CSA record that Bill Doyle’s women’s teams had established from 1993-97. Doyle himself was on hand that day, having traveled from his home in Philadelphia to watch his daughter, Grace who did her part to preserve her father’s record intact by beating Crimson freshman Evie Coxon in the No. 7 match. In the opening shift, Princeton drew first blood when its Nos. 5 and 8 players Andrea Toth and Morgan Steelman won the first two completed matches of the day over Maddie Chai and freshman Charlotte Orcutt respectively. Henley then won 3-0 over Princeton No. 2 Elle Ruggiero, as did Kennedy over Raneem El Torky to even the team score at 2-all. As anxiety grew throughout the galleries overlooking the Barnaby Courts, the two remaining second-shift matches were evenly divided --- with Grace Doyle’s win being balanced by Craig’s victory over Princeton No. 6 Emily Rose --- as were the first two completed matches in the third tier, in which Moataz defeated Princeton No. 3 Caroline Spahr but Princeton’s India Stephenson won the No. 9 match 3-0 over Grace Steelman.

  Those eight matches required only 25 games, just one above the minimum, as Harvard’s sweep of the top three positions was fully equaled by Princeton’s sweep of the bottom three slots in a rare instance of an opposing team demonstrating much more depth than Harvard could muster in its lineup. It all came down to a last-match-on-court scenario at No. 4, where Evans was unable to convert a 10-6 lead in her opening game against Emme Leonard (the younger sister of Kayley, who was watching the match from the gallery), which Evans wound up losing 13-11. She fought back to win the second 11-5, but Leonard took the third 11-8 and rallied late in the fourth to catch Evans at 9-all, just two points from securing Princeton’s team win. Throughout that fourth game, as Leonard grew closer and closer to victory, Evans’s teammates, while fully aware and respectful of the mental toughness that had carried her through so many close matches in the past, also became increasingly fearful that this might be the one time that she might crack under the mounting pressure.

  On the crucial 9-all exchange, Evans lashed a backhand cross-court, forcing a weak Leonard return that led to a stroke call, following which Evans volleyed a backhand drop shot that barely cleared the tin to come away with that game 11-9. She then had a 5-0 run from 2-3 to 7-3 in the fifth, but Leonard, who throughout the match kept making late-game rallies, was able to creep back to 8-9. At that crisis moment, with the outcome still very much hanging in the balance, Evans spiked a head-high backhand cross-court volley into the right nick to get to match ball (Leonard requested a let, but in vain), which she converted by drawing Leonard up to the front-right and nailing a forehand cross-court into the open area that died at the back wall, barely eluding Leonard’s frantic attempt to excavate it back into play. Ultimately, Evans was able to will her way through, showing tremendous tenacity in a must-win match in which she was never in full control of the action. There was a large and emotional team embrace just outside the court, but no one raced onto the court, in keeping with Coach Way’s edict that his team show respect for the opponent and not celebrate in any kind of “in your face” manner (the immediate aftermath of Tarek’s 2019 Potter Cup-clinching win being an exception).

  When Evans was asked afterwards how cognizant she was of the overall team score as she was bootstrapping her way through the close fourth and fifth games, she answered that, although she was somewhat aware from what she called “the energy in the Murr Center gallery” that it was very close, she was nevertheless able “to stay inside my own bubble and focus completely on my own match and what I needed to do to get through it.” Realizing that her strategy of hitting as hard as she could was not working, she instead concentrated on getting better length and ball placement, hitting her targets in the back of the court and becoming more active at the tee when her pressure elicited an open ball. She also cited “the calmness of Mike and the coaches and the measured tones in which they spoke to me before the fourth and fifth games” as a factor that “balanced out my high energy in a very constructive way.” The many mental-training sessions that she had had with Coach Way during her career had taught Evans how to channel her nerves in a positive direction, and in the crucible of this pressure-filled match, she proved that she had learned her lessons well. As for the winner she hit at 10-9 in the fourth game and the two consecutive winners she hit at 9-8 in the fifth, Evans said, “The ball was just there and I hit those shots without thinking about it.” In retrospect the most important point of the match was the 9-all point in the fourth game on which she got a stroke call in her favor, as that gave her a cushion, however small, to go for and execute the close-to-the-tin backhand volley winner that closed out that game.


   It was the first time in 46 dual meets dating back to the final round of the 2016 Howe Cup that an opposing team had registered more than two points against the Harvard women’s team, and the first time in 31 dual meets dating back to the 2017 Howe Cup final that the team had yielded more than one point. This meant that, to that juncture, the Kennedy/Henley/Evans trio of four-year starters had gone through their entire varsity careers without themselves or any of their teammates playing anything approaching a must-win match in which the dual-meet outcome hung in the balance. Kennedy found herself caught between being so nervous as she watched the last few games of Evans’s match that she later said she “was tempted to put my hands over my eyes” and being exhilarated by being in the midst of such an exciting atmosphere in the gallery, with supporters of both teams reacting wildly after every point. The Murr Center galleries were louder and fuller that afternoon than they had been in years during a women’s team home match, which for the team members had a richness of experience that made their college careers that much more complete. Indeed, even some of the 2019 graduates, while pleased with how much success their teams had achieved, nevertheless acknowledged that it would have been more satisfying if their regular-season and Howe Cup matches had been closer and more competitive during their final two dominant seasons.

   After Evans had emerged triumphant from her close match with Emme Leonard, Marwan Tarek started calling her “MVP,” a moniker that stuck throughout the remainder of that season and quite likely played a role in the fact that she wound up being voted the team’s MVP for 2019-20, a nice companion-piece to the Most Improved Player designation she had received at the end of the 2017-18 season. Although Evans had been an extremely successful player --- and almost a guaranteed win --- for years, her achievements were to some extent obscured among those of her classmates Kennedy and Henley, so everyone on the team, especially Kennedy and Henley, was happy that in this case Evans was the one who got to wear the hero’s mantle.

   In the end the narrow escape from Princeton’s upset bid turned out to be a positive that, according to Craig, “shook us up and made us understand that we’re all accountable to each other. Everyone learned from that dual meet and reexamined their game tactically.” Realizing that several players had panicked in the heat of the moment and that more support needed to be given to the freshmen pair of Coxon and Orcutt, neither of whom had been in that type of situation before and both of whom had lost their matches, the team came together and ran through all 10 of its remaining regular-season dual meets and the first two rounds (against Colombia and Trinity) of the Howe Cup by scores of either 9-0 or 8-1. Included in this skein was a 9-0 win over Yale that represented its 12th consecutive victory (the last seven of them shut-outs) over the Bulldogs, dating back to the 2011 Howe Cup final-round loss in Coach Way’s first season as Harvard’s coach. These results enabled the Crimson to qualify for a final-round match-up against a Princeton team that had outplayed host Yale 6-3 in the semis to reach the Howe Cup final for the first time in 11 years. The Harvard players and coaching staff were very aware that the Princeton team members had been quite active on social media, urging their followers to show up to support them and citing their near-miss in the dual meet as proof that they had a real chance to reclaim the Cup. Coach Way emphasized to his players the importance that this latter dynamic placed on the first-shift matches, while also making sure they knew that they hadn’t really proved themselves to be a better team than Princeton in the dual meet and that this Howe Cup rematch therefore represented an opportunity to do so once and for all.