HARTFORD, CONN. — Just under a month ago, Penn men's squash defeated Trinity College 7-2 at the Penn Squash Center. But, on Saturday, the Bantams had their chance for revenge and took it, stunning the Quakers in an emotional yet exhilaratingly close 5-4 loss.
Saturday's match occurred in the Potter Cup semifinal, with a spot in the national final against Harvard on the line. Penn entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed and had only lost one game throughout the regular season. Despite being the six seed and going 12-4 in the regular season, Trinity didn't have the same pedigree, especially after ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak — on which they were outscored by a combined 20-7.
But — what Trinity did have at its advantage was a home crowd. Despite an active snowstorm occurring outside, the Kellner Squash Center was rocking, with many parents and other fans in attendance to cheer on the Bantams.
The contest was back and forth, with neither team ever really seeming to be fully in control until the final point was scored. In a show of how even the competition was, Penn won 17 games to Trinity's 18.
"I thought that our boys were absolute warriors today," coach Gilly Lane said. "We played in a hostile environment against a hungry team that ended up winning more points than we did in crucial situations."
In the first match of the day to finish, Penn senior Dillon Huang defeated Trinity's Marwan ElBorolossey to give the Quakers an early lead in the overall total. After dropping the first game 5-11, Huang won the next three 11-1, 11-6, and 11-5, respectively, to secure the victory.
But the next match did not have the same result, and featured a much more unconventional finish. Down two games to one and trailing in the fourth game, Penn junior Dana Santry got into an altercation with Trinity's Benedek Takacs, which ended with Santry pushing his opponent into the glass and leading to his disqualification.
Once they had won their first match of the day, the Bantams wasted little time to take the lead as Trinity's Mohamed Sharaf defeated Penn sophomore Nathan Kueh. That match, the top-positioned one of the afternoon, was a mirror image of Huang's win, as Kueh won the first game before losing the next three.
One element that was very common in these first three matches, and persisted throughout the afternoon, was testiness. After most points, one or both players — as well as some members of the crowd — would appeal to the referee and implore them to change their mind.
This aspect was particularly clear in the fourth match of the day to finish, a four-set win by Penn freshman Omar Hafez, the recently-crowned Ivy League Rookie of the Year. At several points, Hafez's opponent, Ahmed Ismail, expressed his exasperation with the decisions of the referee, especially when a long rally was ruled to need a replay following a let early in the point.
The next two games were settled in quick succession, as Trinity's Julius Benthin won against Penn senior Tushar Shahani in four games to briefly give the Bantams a 3-2 overall lead. However, just moments later, fellow Penn senior Saksham Choudhary completed a three-game win to tie the overall score.
All this time, Penn junior Nick Spizzirri was locked in a tight duel with Abdelrahman Nassar of Trinity. After losing the first two games, Spizzirri battled back to win in a five-game, 68-minute thriller that had an enthusiastic crowd cheering after each point. With only two games left on the day, Penn held a 4-3 advantage and was on the cusp of a second straight appearance in the Potter Cup final.
However, in a finish eerily similar to Penn's only other defeat of the season — at Harvard on Jan. 22 — the Quakers were not able to win either of the last two matches, and ultimately lost 5-4. The final match of the day, which featured Trinity's Joachim Chuah Han Wen against Penn sophomore Roger Baddour, was particularly heartbreaking, as Baddour was struggling through obvious pain throughout the match.
"[Roger's] one of the most unselfish people I've ever met in my entire life," Lane said. "He's the kid you always want to coach, he's the kid you always want on your team, he's the kid that you would do anything for — and he put his body, his heart, his mind on the line for the team."
Trinity will now go on to face Harvard for the Potter Cup championship trophy tomorrow afternoon, while Penn is set to face Yale in the third-place game earlier in the day.