NEW HAVEN, Conn. – By yesterday afternoon the question at the finals of the Howe Cup was not which team would win, but just how quickly the women's squash team would claim the Cup and the national title that goes with it.
Princeton would not have to wait long. The Tigers opened with five straight wins against No. 2 seed Harvard en route to an 8-1 victory and their first national championship in seven years. Friday and Saturday, Princeton (11-0 overall, 8-0 Ivy League) cruised by both Williams and Dartmouth, 9-0, to set up the meeting with the Crimson.
In the opening match on center court, senior No. 3 Missy Wyant set the tone for the Tigers, sweeping past her opponent in three games in one of the most decisive matches of her collegiate career. Head coach Gail Ramsay described her as the most valuable player in the tournament.
"Missy has been here for three years and been so close to winning," Ramsay said. "It's all about the journey, and she showed up today ready to play and started us out on the right foot."
At the trophy presentation, the team dedicated its victory to Wyant and her efforts.
"I am so excited and so proud of my teammates," Wyant said. "It is so special winning the championship in my fourth year."
During the regular season, the Tigers bested Harvard 7-2, ending the Crimson's 59-match regular season winning streak, and thus expected a heightened challenge from the Crimson in the tournament. But the solid play of Princeton in its first five matches ensured that Harvard would not repeat as champions for the sixth time in a row.
The first four Tiger women easily swept past their Harvard foes. Midway through the second trio of players, Princeton already led 4-0.
Then the Princeton flurry lost a little steam. Juniors No. 2 Elise O'Connell and No. 8 Meghan Murphy ended up going five games in each of their matches.
O'Connell, in the most exciting match of the day, gave Harvard its only tally of the day in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss. Murphy, on the other hand, faced a 2-1 deficit and came back to win in five games.
The one that brought it home
Murphy's win put the match score at 5-1, clinching the match and the national championship for the Tigers. After some celebration, the matches continued, with freshman No. 1 Julia Beaver still to play.
Beaver, ailing all week from influenza, certainly did not let her illness get in the way of her destruction of Harvard's Ivy Pochoda. The Tiger standout cruised to victory in three games, finishing the season unbeaten.
"No excuses," Beaver said. "I left my sickness off the court."
That kind of effort characterized Princeton's play throughout the tournament and the season.
"It's awesome," freshman No. 5 Meredeth Quick said. "We worked hard and we definitely deserve it."
"It's tough to excel in the classroom and commit to a sport," she said. "To handle everything and reach the top of an athletic sport is very impressive."
The decisiveness of the victory should not diminish the quality play of the Crimson. The aggressive Tigers kept the Crimson on the defensive all day.
Ramsay complimented the Crimson on an outstanding season and applauded its skill.
"We wouldn't be as good as we are without your efforts," she explained to Harvard after accepting the Cup. "We can always count on you to make us play our best game."
The loss moved Harvard head coach Bill Doyle's career record to 73-3. Princeton has accounted for two of those three blemishes.
As for Ramsay, she guided the Tigers to a championship after only four years with the program. When asked about the season, about the only thing Ramsay had to say was, "I'm relieved."
More to come
She will more than likely be saying that a couple more times during the next three years, as only one of the top nine will be lost to graduation.
Simply put, the Tigers might be clutching the same Cup again next year.