Cambridge, MA — Trinity defeated Harvard to win the Potter Cup and the 2017 Men’s National Team Championship.
Fans packed Harvard’s Murr Center on an unseasonably mild February afternoon, eager to see a close match between two storied squash programs.
The match-up promised drama: during the teams’ regular season contest less than two weeks ago, the result had come down to the final match on court. Trinity’s Michael Craig came from two games down to win the #4 match 11-9 in the fifth, handing the then-#1 ranked Crimson their first loss of the season.
Coming into today’s championship final, both teams had had sterling seasons. Harvard had claimed the Ivy League title, while Trinity had won the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship. Each team had a single, narrow 4-5 loss: Harvard’s was to Trinity, and Trinity’s was to Rochester back in January.
And, of course, both teams come with laureled college squash pasts: Trinity had won 15 national titles and had reached the finals 19 out of the last 20 years. The Bantams last won the Potter Cup in 2015 over St. Lawrence. Harvard had won 31 national team titles, last winning in 2014. The Crimson had swept Trinity 9-0 in that 2014 final, the last time the Men’s National Team Championships were played at the Murr Center.
To reach the finals, Harvard defeated Yale 8-1 in the first round and Columbia 5-4 in the semifinals. Trinity defeated Penn 8-1 in the opening round and won 7-2 over St. Lawrence. Though the Harvard-Colmumbia score was closer, the Crimson had had an easier trip in the semis, clinching faster than Trinity, who played through several longer individual contests.
The first round match-ups were Yehia Essam (Trinity) versus senior co-captain Devin McLaughlin (Harvard) at #9, Sean Hughes (Harvard) versus senior tri-captain Afeeq Ismail (Trinity) at #6, and Thoboki Mohohlo (Trinity) versus Madhav Dhingra (Harvard) at #3.
Hughes won in three to put Harvard on the board first. Essam won the first game at #9, but McLaughlin came back to take the match in four games. Mohohlo and Dhingra traded the first two games at #2, but Mohohlo regrouped to win the match in four, putting Trinity on the board. At the end of the first flight, the score was Harvard 2, Trinity 1.
The second round featured matches between juniors Bradley Smith (Harvard) and Rick Penders (Trinity) at #2, Tom De Mulder (Trinity) versus David Ryan (Harvard) at #5, and Dylan Murray (Harvard) versus James Evans (Trinity) at #8. Penders won in three games to tie the overall match score 2-all, and De Mulder won in four. Evans, a junior who hasn’t lost a match in his collegiate career, pulled away to win in the fourth, putting Trinity ahead 4-2.
Harvard would need to sweep the final round to reclaim the Potter Cup; Trinity needed just one more win. The third round pairings were Omar Alluadin (Trinity) versus senior co-captain Bryan Koh (Harvard) at #7, Timmy Brownell (Harvard) against Craig (Trinity) at #4, and Kush Kumar (Trinity) versus Saadeldin Abouaish (Harvard) at #1.
Harvard won the first games of all three final flight matches. At #1, Abouaish outlasted Kumar in a 22-minute first game, winning 12-10 in tie-breakers. Craig and Allaudin both came back to win their second games while Abouaish put Kumar away in three to give Harvard their third match. Allaudin pulled ahead 2-1 before Koh tied the match 2-all. But the real drama was unfolding on Court 5.
Craig had pulled ahead to 2-1 in games and had Brownell at match ball at 10-7. Brownell began to stage a comeback, retrieving shot after shot as Craig moved him around the court. Brownell held off one match point, then another and another, and Koh was on his way to winning in five on the court next door. Harvard still had a chance. But after a series of marathon let balls, Craig finally put the ball away to win 11-9 in the fourth. He pumped his fists and fell back onto the floor as his teammates swarmed the court. Trinity had won their 16th national team championship.
The final score was Trinity 5, Harvard 4.
Trinity is led by head coach Paul Assaiante and assistant coach Chris Binnie. Nicholas Giacco, Ismail, and Penders are tri-captains.