Princeton Tigers win a close won for third title in a row
Feb 17 , 2008, by Kirsten Carlson for SquashTalk.com , Independent News; © 2008 SquashTalk LLC
(photo Debra Tessier: ©2009)
The two-time defending national champion Princeton Tigers entered Howe Cup weekend with a 10-0 record, the Ivy League Championship and an unusual amount of questions surrounding their ability to repeat. They left Harvard's Barnaby Courts with a 5-4 win over the home team, and no unanswered questions.
"I'm just so incredibly impressed with their teamwork, how determined they were to win each of their matches, to win the Ivy title, and to maintain that through this weekend," Princeton head coach Gail Ramsay said of her team.
Princeton overcame Trinity 5-4 in the semifinal, the only top team they had not proven themselves against, as the teams never met this season. Princeton had the home court advantage when they beat Harvard 5-4 in dual match competition. With such a close scoreline – five matches extended to five games - some wondered how big of an impact that would play.
No. 3 Emery Maine got things started for the Tigers, nabbing the first win of the match, defeating Emily Park in three. Freshman Katie Giovinazzo won her first two games, lost the momentum in the third, and despite making some errors and playing in front of an increasingly loud Harvard crowd, never lost her focus. She concluded an undefeated season by putting her team ahead 2-0.
"I felt comfortable with Katie (coming through with a win)," Ramsay said. "She managed the pressure well. She was patient."
Bethan Williams put Harvard on the board with a four game win over Princeton tri-captain Maggie O'Toole, a player she lost to a week prior. Williams nearly took the first, fighting back from an eight point deficit against an increasingly frustrated O'Toole, getting the crowd behind her and never relenting after.
Harvard's June Tiong played No. 1 in the teams' dual match meeting, but the All American has been dealing with an injury and moved down to two. She was up against Neha Kumar, who has had own share of injuries this year, and throughout her college career. Kumar fell behind 6-2 in the first, changed her tactics and never looked back, winning in three and allowing Tiong just five more points.
"I was trying to figure out her strengths and weaknesses," Kumar said of the first. "I just figured I needed to go back to by lob drop game."
With Princeton up 3-1 in matches, Harvard's Katherine O'Donnell and Princeton's Jackie Moss were tied in games at the No. 5 position. The No. 8's, Harvard's Cece Cortes and Princeton's Nikki Sequeira, began their match at almost the exact moment the No. 1's stepped on court.
HARVARD BUILDS BRIEF EDGE IN CRITICAL CONTESTS
Princeton's Amanda Siebert defeated Nirasha Guruge in the first, and then was blanked in the second. Cortes won the first two games 9-3, 9-3, while Moss went up 2-1 against O'Donnell. With most of the attention focused on the glass court and the more vocal O'Donnell/Moss match, Sequeira quietly started whittling away at a 7-2 third game deficit.
"Up until that point, she was going down quite fast and quite well," Ramsay said of Sequeira. "She had to change the tempo a little."
O'Donnell won the fourth to stay alive, and minutes later on the adjacent court, Princeton's Sequeira did the same. Over on the glass court, Guruge took a 2-1 lead over Siebert. The three Harvard players set the team in position to take a 4-3 match lead.
SEQUERIA TAKES CRITICAL MATCH FOR PRINCETON
With cheers of "K.O" behind her, O'Donnell did as she was told, scoring a devastating knock out blow to Moss, 9-0 in the fifth. Attention shifted to Court 4, where Sequeira had taken the lead in the fifth after blanking Cortes in the fourth. The last time the two met, Cortes came back from a 2-0 deficit. Sunday Sequeira returned the favor, to put her team one win away from the national title. The audience focused solely on the glass court, where Siebert had pulled even in games.
SIEBERT COMES BACK FROM DEAD TO CLINCH MATCH
The fifth was a quick affair. Siebert took Guruge off her game. Guruge started making errors, and with her entire team hanging on every point, Siebert won on the second match ball.
Siebert thought she had kept her team alive, but did not know she had clinched the match until her teammates flooded the court.
"In truth, I thought Harvard had four," Siebert said. "They were banging on the glass, so I thought it would be their fifth."
Alisha Mashruwala and team captain Johanna Snyder went on to collect wins for Harvard. Snyder defeated tri-captain Aly Brady, who found out her team won after her first game. Brady said she was still as motivated to win her match, but was "a little jumpy" and briefly had a tough time seeing clearly through her tears.
Brady said this was the toughest win of the three.
"This year was different," Brady said. "We really felt like the underdogs. We lost three great players. The other teams brought in some other strong players."
Fellow captain Joanna Scoon agreed.
"The added pressure (of being defending champs) and increased competition made it tougher," Scoon said. "We wanted it so badly. We worked so hard to overcome the odds."
The championship is Princeton's seventeenth overall.
The upperclassmen of the Brown and Dartmouth teams are not used to taking home hardware from the Howe Cup, as they have spent their years vying for sixth or seventh place in the A Division. The teams entered this year's tournament as the top teams in the B Division. Brown won the anticipated final 6-3, to finish ninth overall. Dartmouth had a close call on its way to the final, narrowly defeating an ever-improving Mount Holyoke team 5-4.
Brown's depth was the key to victory. The Bears won at 5-9, while No. 3, Laura Pyne continued playing what Brown head coach Stuart leGassick called "her best squash of the season."
"They were ready to play, ready to hustle for every ball," leGassick said of his team. "They played patiently. As a coach, I'm thrilled for the three seniors and the entire team."
Despite Sunday's Walker Cup Final representing the third meeting this season between Amherst and Tufts, the outcome remained impossible to predict. Amherst defeated an injury plagued Tufts team 9-0 in December, but narrowly escaped with a 5-4 win when they played a healthy squad at the NESCACs.
Amherst got a quick start on defending their wins. Melissa Moulton and Veronica Roca won at six and nine, while teammate Kate Savage jumped out to a 2-0 lead at No. 3. Tufts' Val Koo dominated the third and won both the fourth and fifth 9-7 to keep her team close. Amherst's Megan Clower and Hayley Milbourn quickly reduced Tufts' chances to a glimmer of hope, crushing their opponents, both allowing only four points. Amherst No. 5 Caitlin Demkin won the deciding match, dropping a tight third on her way to winning in four.
Amherst coach Tom Carmean was happy with how his entire team played over the weekend. Allie Dalglish, who plays No. 1, particularly impressed him, going 3-0 on the weekend, defeating Tufts' Victoria Barba in three when it took her five in their last meeting,
Amherst is a young team, with only one senior and one junior.
"This (Howe Cup) was all new to a lot of them," Carmean said. "I think they were really nervous and got more confident as the weekend moved on."
William Smith took the first title of the day, defeating a spirited Northeastern team 6-3 to win the Epps Cup and claim the No. 25 ranking. William Smith took a 3-0 lead quickly, winning 3-0 at positions 9, 3 and 8. Northeastern came right back, as No. 6 Sarah Sweet defeated Alexa Comstock in four, and No. 2 Diana Toubman defeated Katie Baker in three. William Smith's Medora Hartz put her team up 4-2 with a win at 5, allowing Megan Peterson to close the door on the Huskies with her win at No. 7 minutes later.
Taiwo Kuti, in his first year coaching at Northeastern, said he knew No. 7 was going to be key, and expected to win there.
"Had we won at seven, it would have been a different match," said Kuti.
Northeastern's Sarah Barrett went on to win easily at No. 1, a noteworthy achievement as she, like the rest of her teammates, was playing up one position due to Tessa Martin suffering a season-ending injury last month. William Smith's Isabella Comstock won a long five-gamer to record her team's sixth victory.
William Smith head coach Chip Fishback said he thought his team played well and with a lot of heart all weekend. He said the one negative was that his top three struggled on the glass court, as it was the first time they had played on one this season.
If there is such a thing as a favorite in the Emerging Teams Division, this year's would have been the University of Vermont. They are experienced, as all five played in high school, and they were runners-up to Georgetown last year, a team which fielded a full squad and moved into the Epps Division. UVM performed like the favorite all weekend, defeating Drexel and Notre Dame without dropping a game, or very many points. UVM had a tougher time with Boston College and Cal, winning both 4-1, with No. 1 Eliza Shaw taking both losses. Cal's Julia Maier handled Shaw in three, while BC's Jen Noesen traded games with her and escaped with a 10-8 win in the fifth.
Pearson Smith, team founder and captain, said BC was their toughest match. Smith had a close three at No. 3, as did Page Smith at No. 2. BC did not field a fifth player.
"We really wanted to win," Pearson Smith said. "That's sort of what did it for us. The BC team was a pretty tough team, but they just didn't have the drive."
Smith will graduate this year, but is confident the team will continue to grow and get stronger. This was the first Howe Cup for three of the team members, and Smith said they were all excited and motivated by the level of competition they saw, something Smith hopes will help ensure the team thrives after she leaves.