Season Recap: National Championship Appearance Highlights Successful Campaign for Crimson

Season Recap: National Championship Appearance Highlights Successful Campaign for Crimson

Five All-Americans, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a highly-successful dual season that ended ever-so-close to a national championship highlighted the women's squash team's 2008-09 campaign. The Crimson, which debuted at No. 4 in the nation in early December, finished the year No. 2 and saw four players make the top 16 at the CSA Individual Championships.

The Season
Harvard began the year in dominating fashion on its home court, as the team defeated Brown Nov. 21, Williams Nov. 23, and No. 8 Dartmouth Dec. 3 by 9-0 scores. Harvard not only swept all 27 individual matches, but the Crimson failed to drop a single game. On 12 different occasions during those three matches, Crimson players outscored their opponents 27-3 or less.

Harvard rode that momentum into a pair of road matches, capturing an 8-1 win at No. 7 Cornell Dec. 6, before taking a long break and taking an 8-1 decision at No. 6 Stanford Jan. 23. Harvard again dominated play, as all eight wins against the Big Red were 3-0 victories, while two players had to work an extra set against the Cardinal before coming away with 3-1 wins. Stanford's only win on the day came as a result of a forfeit due to injury.

Harvard returned to Barnaby Courts Feb. 4 against No. 3 Trinity, and the team did not disappoint, as the Crimson earned a 7-2 victory. The Bantams captured wins at the No. 1 and 8 positions, but Harvard's talent proved too tough that afternoon.

The Crimson then faced the most difficult part of its schedule the following weekend, as No. 3 Harvard faced No. 2 Penn and No. 1 Princeton in back-to-back matches Feb. 7 and 8. The Quakers captured a win at the No. 1 slot, but Harvard won seven of the other eight to earn the 7-2 victory. With a 7-0 record after that win, Harvard looked prime to take the No. 1 ranking from Princeton the next day, but a close contest that saw five matches go to five sets ended with a Tiger victory, 5-4.

Harvard rebounded three days later at home against No. 5 Yale on Feb. 11, as the Crimson came out on top, 6-3, with two of the three losses coming in five sets. Despite playing four matches within an eight-day span, the Crimson had no time for rest, as the CSA National Team Championships awaited Harvard Feb. 13. Harvard, the host institution, was looking for a second date with Princeton in what would potentially be the national championship match.

Before then, Harvard had to get past Stanford in the first round, which the Crimson did, 8-1, including five sweeps. Harvard faced Penn in the semifinal round Feb. 14, and although the Quakers captured the top two spots, Harvard again was too much as the Crimson won, 7-2. In front of a packed house at Barnaby Courts, it was No. 1 Princeton against No. 2 Harvard, with the Tigers looking for their 17th national title and third in a row, while the Crimson was looking to dethrone Princeton and capture its 13th title.

Princeton jumped out early with a 3-0 win at No. 3, but Harvard answered when sophomore Bethan Williams captured a 3-1 win at No. 6. Princeton went ahead with victories at No. 2 and No. 9, but junior Katherine O'Donnell captured a hard fought, 3-2, win at No. 5 to cut the deficit to 3-2. The Tigers grabbed the No. 8 spot to push themselves closer to victory, and then rallied at the No. 1 spot for their fifth match win of the afternoon. Harvard closed out the contest as junior Johanna Snyder won at No. 7 and sophomore Alisha Mashruwala took spot No. 4 for the final 5-4 margin.

Harvard finished its season at the CSA Individual Championships Feb. 27-March 1 at Williams, as four players advanced to the second round and freshman Nirasha Guruge advanced to the quarterfinals of the Ramsay Cup. O'Donnell, Mashruwala and freshman Emily Park each fell in the second round, while Guruge, the No. 7 seed, fell to the No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals. Williams went on to capture the Ramsay Cup consolation bracket on the third day of play.

The Stats
Williams was one of six players to post double digit wins, as she went 15-3 overall, and 7-1 at her main No. 6 spot. Mashruwala collected a 14-3 record throughout the season, including 5-1 at No. 3 and 4-0 at No. 4. O'Donnell went undefeated with a 9-0 record at No. 5 and finished 12-3 overall. Snyder compiled a 7-1 at No. 7 and went 11-3 overall.

Park, at 10-4 overall and 5-0 at No. 4, and Guruge, at 10-5 overall and 6-1 at No. 2, were the other two players to post 10 or more wins. The Crimson also got significant contributions from sophomore Alexandra Zindman (9-3), junior Sandra Mumanachit (8-2) and freshman Cece Cortes (6-2).

Harvard players combined to go 100-38 during the 2008-09 season.

The Awards
Guruge was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, the third time in the past four years a player from Harvard earned the distinction, while she and Mashruwala earned All-Ivy honors. The duo also made up two-fifths of Harvard's CSA All-America selections, as Guruge took home first-team honors and Mashruwala, Park, Williams and sophomore June Tiong grabbed second-team honors. Tiong and Mashruwala both were named All-Americans for the second year in a row.

Looking Forward
With no seniors, three juniors and major contributions from a bunch of freshmen on the team this past season, the Crimson will aim for nothing less than a national championship come 2010. After a year of seasoning and getting a sniff of the national championship, head coach Satinder Bajwa and his Harvard squad know the future is next season.