“Today just wasn’t our day.”
After coming agonizingly close to winning his first Howe Cup championship, Penn squash coach Jack Wyant couldn’t help but be pensive after the women’s team lost, 5-4, to the defending champion, Harvard.
It was one of the most exciting squash matches of the year as the two best teams fought an intense battle up and down the ladder to decide the national championship.
Harvard (13-0) drew first blood with a sweep of freshman Rowaida Attia by Sue Ann Yong. With the match score at 1-0 and Penn (14-2) trailing in the other two matches in the first shift, the contest threatened to get out of hand early.
The momentum shifted to Penn’s side soon after, however. Down 0-2 to Sophie Mehta, junior Grace Van Arkel stormed all the way back to win in five. Soon after, senior Yan Xin Tan gave Penn the lead with another five-game winner.
Following Michelle Wong’s four-game victory to put Penn up 3-1, the momentum started to shift back to the Crimson. Wins by Dileas MacGowan and Kayley Leonard of Harvard knotted the match score at three heading into the final shift.
With everyone watching the action unfold at the Brady Squash Center, the match got even more exciting. Marie Stephan found herself down 0-1 in her match before flipping a switch and dominating her opponent en route to a four-game victory to put Penn one point away from the title.
Facing a 4-3 deficit, Saumya Karki struck back with a four-game winner to bring the score to 4-4 with one match left.
With a huge crowd flanking all sides of the center glass court, the two No. 1s from both teams fought tooth and nail for the right to bring home the national title.
“Reeham [Salah] is one of the most talented squash players to ever come to Penn,” Wyant said. “I was hoping it would come down to that.”
Salah fought hard, but fellow freshmen Sabrina Sobhy was ultimately able to pull out a four-game win to clinch the national title for the Crimson.
The pivotal fourth game was a spectacle to behold. Aside from the great squash from both players, there was plenty of controversy surrounding the officiating calls — especially a costly conduct strove given to Salah early in the game.
Salah and Sobhy could once again find themselves playing for a different title next week. With both freshmen sure to receive top four seeds at the upcoming CSA Individual Championships next weekend, the duo will surely find themselves on another collision course.
Dropping his third chance to win a Howe Cup trophy, Wyant refuses to let the results discourage him.
“Even until the very end I had hope,” he said.
The Quakers have no reason to hang their heads in defeat, players such as Stephan who improved her record this year to 16-0 and Richey Award finalist Tan highlight some of the incredible things this team accomplished this year.
Taking the court before the women, the men’s squash team had a rematch with Harvard in the consolation finals of the Potter Cup.
After a 2-1 first shift, the match seemed to be shaping up to be yet another nail-biter.
Everything changed once the second shift started. Sophomore Hayes Murphy kicked things off by putting Penn up 3-1 with a victory at the No. 2 spot on the ladder, while junior BG Lemmon took a tightly contested match to put the Quakers one match away from the victory.
Down 0-2 in the final match of the second shift, Max Reed stormed all the way back to force a decisive fifth game. While the coaching staff was occupied with coaching the women through their match against Harvard, Reed clinched the men’s team’s first victory over Crimson since 1979, just the third win ever over their Cambridge rivals.
After a tough first round loss to Rochester on Friday, the Red and Blue have rebounded to maintain their top-five ranking, their best season finish since 2007.
“The men’s season had lots of ups and downs,” Wyant said. “To see such a young team come through yesterday in a tough match and then back that up today, they personified what we want Penn Athletics to be about.”
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