Come Sunday, both Penn squash teams will be playing in the finals against Harvard, the difference will be that one team will play for a national championship while the other team fight for a chance to keep their ranking.
For the first time since Feb. 6, both Penn squash teams won on the same day in their respective national tournaments.
Saturday’s matches at the Collegiate Squash Association National Championships started out with a bang. After a rough 8-1 loss to Rochester less than 24 hours ago, Penn men’s squash (11-6) booked a rematch with Columbia (7-7) in the consolation bracket semifinals.
Faced with a chance to avenge their loss earlier in the season, the Quakers jumped out to a 3-1 lead. Columbia started to come alive in the second shift to knot the match at three heading into the final shift.
That’s when the fireworks started.
Junior BG Lemmon’s win gave Penn their fourth point of the match, but freshman Max Reed’s defeat left the score at 4-4 with just one match left on court.
With a sizeable crowd looking on from the gallery, the No. 1s of both squads put on an epic show. With a 2-2 deadlock in the final game, sophomores Marwan Mahmoud of Penn and Osama Khalifa of Columbia fought to give their teams the final point.
In the end, Mahmoud pulled off the improbable and won the final game over the second-ranked player in the nation, 17-15.
The real story from the game came with Mahmoud serving match point with the score at 12-11. A costly error on the serve evened the score and led many to believe that it would cost Mahmoud the match.
“85-90 percent of the time the person who does that goes on to lose,” Penn coach Jack Wyant said. “For him to overcome that and win is the real story here.”
Mental gymnastics aside, the men’s team has guaranteed that they will improve their preseason ranking by at least one spot tomorrow in the consolation finals. The Quakers will have to go through the Crimson if they want to hold on to their top-five ranking Sunday.
“That’s a big confidence boost for the team as a whole,” senior Yan Xin Tan said. “It’s been a great day for Penn squash”
Literally seconds after the men’s team’s thrilling victory, the women (14-1) had to take the court in the semifinals of the Howe Cup. A rematch with Princeton was the only thing standing between Penn and the finals.
The Red and Blue picked up right where they left off on Friday, racing out to a quick 4-1 lead. Needing one last win to book their spot in the Howe Cup finals, sophomore Marie Stephan clinched the match with her win at no. 4 to bring her record this season to 15-0.
The top third of the ladder was particularly dominating against the Tigers (12-3). With three wins against the top three spots on the opposing ladder, the Red and Blue made quick work of some of the highest ranked women in college squash.
Looking forward to Sunday, the Quakers will take on Harvard for a chance to bring home their second national title in program history.
“We’re super excited to play tomorrow,” Tan said. “I’m very happy with everyone and our performance.”
Before the match however, Tan will wait to hear if she will win the fourth Richey Award in program history. Despite the potentially momentous achievement - the Richey Award is the top individual award in collegiate squash - Tan’s focus remains on the Crimson.
“I haven’t thought about it,” she said. “If I win it tomorrow then great, but nationals for the team is more important.”
Sunday will see another chapter added to the burgeoning Penn-Harvard rivalry. The clash of red, blue and crimson will be sure to bring purple rain.
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