New Haven, CT — For the second weekend in a row, a Harvard team and a Trinity team met in the national championship final at Yale’s Brady Squash Center. Last weekend, the Harvard women fended off an upstart Trinity squad 5-4 to win their third national title in four years. This weekend, the men took center stage, and Trinity defeated Harvard 6-3 to win the 2013 Men’s National Team Championship.
Trinity looked to be the favorite coming into the match. The Bantams were riding an undefeated season, which included a 5-4 win over the Crimson at Harvard earlier this month. Since the two teams had met, Harvard had lost its number 8 player, senior co-captain Jason Michas, to injury, so Matt Roberts and Alexander Ma both had to move up a spot in the order.
Then there was recent history, which was decidedly in the Bantams’ favor. Before losing to Princeton in last year’s final, Trinity had won thirteen national titles in a row. Since the Bantams began their run on championships, Harvard had not beaten Trinity once.
The Bantams opened the championships by powering past an up-and-coming St. Lawrence squad in the first round, winning 8-1. In the semifinals, they faced Yale — and Yale’s vociferous fans. The Bulldogs put up a fight, but the Bantams clinched early, advancing to the finals with a 7-2 win.
The Bantams were likely unwinding in their rooms by the time the third-seeded Crimson secured their berth in the finals. Though the two semifinal matches went on court within a half-hour of each other, the Harvard-Princeton match lasted hours longer than Trinity-Yale. The Crimson had already had a close match in the first round, holding off Rochester 6-3. In the semifinals, they faced Princeton, a team they had narrowly lost to in the regular season. This time around, Harvard was able to reverse the result and score a 5-4 upset, but it was a long, punishing match that came down to the fifth game of the last match on court.
Harvard had run miles more than Trinity through the first two rounds of the tournament. However, the Crimson had also proven that they could withstand the pressure of a 4-all match and unseat a team that had beaten them once before. Could they do it again?
The match-ups in the first flight were Miled Zarazua (Trinity) and Nigel Koh (Harvard) at number 3, Tommy Mullaney (Harvard) and senior co-captain Johan Detter (Trinity) at number 6, and Matthew Mackin (Trinity) and Ma (Harvard) at number 9.
On court 1, Koh opened up a quick three-point lead before Zarazua got on the board. Zarazua came back to tie the game at 5-all, and as he began to pull away, Koh upped the pressure. Zarazua was unfazed, winning the first game 11-8. Mackin jumped out to a 1-game lead in the number 9 match, and Mullaney and Detter battled through a close first game, with Mullaney winning 11-9.
The second game between Zarazua and Koh went quickly, and Zarazua soon led 2-0 in games. In the third game, Koh again opened up with a run of points, going up 5-0 before Zarazua got on the board. Zarazua began to chip away at Koh’s lead, but the Harvard junior was on a roll, winning 11-5. On the other courts, Ma and Detter both came back to tie their matches 1-all.
Zarazua and Koh traded points in the opening on the fourth game. Koh would go up, then Zarazua would catch him. Zarazua finally broke ahead at 8-7, but Koh again evened the score 8-all. A “no let” call gave Koh the 9-8 lead, but a tin from the Harvard junior tied it back up at 9-all. After a let ball, Zarazua reached match point. Still not done, Koh tied it up at 10-all, forcing the game to go in to extra points. Koh won 12-10 to force a fifth game. On court three, Detter pulled ahead 2-1, and not to be outdone, Ma went ahead 2-1 at number 9.
The fifth game at number 3 began much like the fourth, with Koh and Zarazua again trading points. At one point, the scores were tied 3-all on court 1, 6-all on court 2, and 5-all on court #3. At 5-4 to Zarazua the referee stopped play because Koh was bleeding. As play resumed on court 3, Ma won 3-1 at number 9, and Detter won 3-1 at number 6. When Zarazua reached match ball at 10-8, the crowd went wild — but Koh came back to make it 10-all. Koh ended up winning 12-10 in the fifth, making it 2-1 to Harvard at the end of the first round of matches.
The second flight pairings were Brandon McLaughlin (Harvard) and Juan Vargas (Trinity) at number 2, Vrishab Kotian (Trinity) and Tyler Olsen (Harvard) at number 5, and Roberts (Harvard) and Moustafa Hamada (Trinity) at number 8.
Hamada had won his first game before the number 2 match between McLaughlin and Vargas was underway. He quickly won his second game 11-2. Kotian went ahead 1-0 for Trinity at number 5, and McLaughlin won the first game at number 3 for Harvard.
McLaughlin took the early lead in the second game at number 2. Vargas began to close the gap by 6-8, giving the crowd of Trinity fans hope. He tied it at 8-all and again at 9-all, sending the crowd into a frenzy. He took the game 12-10, tying the match 1-all.
The match began to turn in Trinity’s favor. Kotian won in three at number 5, giving the Bantams a 3-2 lead in the overall score. Vargas came out swinging in the third game, running up a lead on McLaughlin and winning 11-5. Between games, the crowd thundered,”Let’s go, Bantams!” At the start of the fourth game, they chanted, “Vargas! Vargas!” McLaughlin answered by winning the first point. Vargas, buoyed by the fans, ran up a lead, but McLaughlin caught him at 5-all. Vargas powered ahead. Three let balls held the score at 10-6, building the tension in the Brady Squash Center. When Vargas won the final point, the crowd erupted. Trinity 4, Harvard 2.
The third and final flight of matches were between senior co-captain Reinhold Hergeth (Trinity) and Ali Farag (Harvard) at number 1, Gary Power (Harvard) and Karan Malik (Trinity) at number 4, and Zeyad El Shorafy (Trinity) and senior co-captain Zeke Scherl (Harvard) at number 7.
El Shorafy quickly went up two games to love over Scherl, and Malik held off Power 11-6 to win his first game. On court #2, Scherl kept the third game close, always staying within a point or two of El Shorafy, tying it at 8-all and not looking back. His 11-8 win forced a fourth game. On court 3, Power tied the match 1-all, and Farag took the first game against Hergeth on court 1. Moments earlier, Trinity’s win had looked like an inevitability, but Harvard was not going to go down easily.
Farag dispatched Hergeth quickly in the second game, winning 11-4. It was tied 5-all at the #7 match and 7-all at the number 4 match. El Shorafy went on a run, breaking away from Scherl 8-5. Though Scherl tried to recover, El Shorafy had the momentum. He won the match in four, giving Trinity the fifth match they needed to clinch the national title. Malik went on to defeat Power, and the final score was Trinity 6, Harvard 3.
The Bantams are led by head coach Paul Assaiante and assistant coaches Andres Vargas and Chris Binnie.
This is the team’s fourteenth national title.