New Haven, CT — Harvard defeated Trinity at Yale’s Brady Squash Center to win the 2013 Women’s National Team Championship.
The Crimson are coached by Mike Way, the Gregory Lee ’87 and Russell Ball ’88 Endowed Coach for Squash at Harvard University. Reggie Schonborn and Luke Hammond are Harvard’s assistant coaches.
The national finals are a familiar place for Harvard. This year’s trio of senior starters — Laura Gemmell and captains Natasha Kingshott and Sarah Mumanachit — have competed in the Howe Cup final every year of their college career, winning twice before: as first-year players, when the tournament was last held at Yale, and last season, when Harvard hosted the event.
Trinity’s lone senior — Robyn Hodgson, who captains the squad with juniors Catalina Pelaez and Melva Lopez — had never played in a Howe Cup final before. Trinity’s last finals appearance was in 2006, when the Bantams lost to Yale. Trinity won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003; they defeated Harvard in 2002 for their first team title in program history.
Harvard began the season as the defending national champions and the early favorite for the 2013 crown. A 4-5 regular season loss to Princeton relegated Harvard to the number 2 spot entering the tournament; that was the Crimson’s sole loss of the season. Trinity began the season ranked third and slipped down as low as fifth thanks to a 3-6 loss to Penn in January. Harvard and Trinity’s regular season match-up went 7-2 in the Crimson’s favor, with the match played at Harvard.
Harvard cruised through the first round of the tournament, taking out seventh-seeded Stanford 9-0. The Crimson faced Penn in the semifinals, and the Quakers put up a stiff challenge, coming from behind to tie the match score 3-all before Harvard managed to pull away to win 6-3, sweeping the final flight of matches.
Trinity took on home team Yale in the first round of the tournament, winning a hard-fought match 7-2. In the semifinals, they played top-seeded Princeton, a team they had not faced during the regular season because the match was cancelled due to the recent blizzard. Trinity jumped out to an early lead, but as in the Harvard-Penn match, Princeton evened the score 3-all after the second flight of matches. Trinity also swept the last three matches to win 6-3.
In the Howe Cup final, the first flight of matches included the number 3 match between Haley Mendez (Harvard) and Wee Nee Low (Trinity), the number 6 match between Kingshott (Harvard) and Natalie Babjukova (Trinity), and the number 9 match between Megan Murray (Harvard) and Chanel Erasmus (Trinity).
In the first match on court 1, Mendez went out to a strong lead, winning the first game over Low 11-4. Low began to settle in the second match, and after Mendez opened a slight lead, Low came back to tie it at 6-all. But Mendez pulled away, winning again 11-8. In the third game, Low came out firing, running up a 5-0 lead. Mendez never closed the gap, and Low won 11-6. The fourth game stayed close through 7-all, but then Mendez took command, winning the match 3-1.
The second flight match-ups were Laura Gemmell (Harvard) and Catalina Pelaez (Trinity) at number 2, Saumya Karki (Harvard) and Hodgson (Trinity) at number 5, and Julianne Chu (Harvard) and Jennifer Pelletier (Trinity) at number 8.
Pelaez held nothing back in the first game against Gemmell, taking the first 11-5 with attacking play. She didn’t let up in the second and went short with a vengeance to take the second 11-6. A different Gemmell came out in the third game, and she put Pelaez on the defensive. But Pelaez stayed in the game, and at 8-all she took charge again, staving off a late charge by Gemmell to win 11-9 in the third.
Karki defeated Hodgson in three at number 5 to give Harvard a 4-1 lead, but Jennifer Pelletier’s 3-0 win over Chu at number 8 kept Trinity’s chances alive.
Going into the final flight of matches, Harvard led 4-2. The pairings were Amanda Sobhy (Harvard) and Kanzy El Defrawy (Trinity) at
number 1, Michelle Gemmell (Harvard) and Ashley Tidman (Trinity) at number 4, and Mumanachit (Harvard) and Sachika Balvani (Trinity) at number 7.
In the number 4 match, Tidman won over Michelle Gemmell, giving Trinity a shot at a come-from-behind victory. On court 2, Balvani jumped out to a 2-0 lead over Mumanachit. The attention shifted to court 1, where Sobhy and Defrawy were locked in a physical, sometimes contentious, battle. Defrawy kept every game as close as she could, diving for shots to the delight of the crowd. But time and time again, Sobhy pulled away when it counted the most. She won the game in three, clinching the victory for Harvard.
The final score was Harvard 5, Trinity 4.
This is Harvard’s fourteenth national team championship.