Top-ranked men’s squash hopes to write another championship story

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The 2011-12 men’s squash team, after winning the national title in February. (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
The 2011-12 season could have passed as a fairy tale for the men’s squash team. Led by four seniors who had their hearts broken in the national title match as rookies, Princeton returned to the championship at Jadwin Gymnasium and dethroned Trinity, coming back from a 4-2 deficit to end the Bantams’ 13-year streak atop college squash. Teammates and fans leapt onto the court to celebrate the culmination of nearly two decades of close calls.
 
Nine months later, the lights came back on in the C-floor of Jadwin and a new year of squash competition began. With it came one question: How do you move on from a storybook season?
 
For the Tigers, it will start with a new-look lineup. Head coach (and newly enshrined Hall of Famer) Bob Callahan ’77 has replaced the quartet of graduates with underclassmen, including two-fifths of a freshman class that wasn’t around for last year’s celebration and wants one of its own. “Having these guys come in completely changes the feel of the team,” said Dylan Ward ’14, who has moved up several spots to No. 4 this season. “They have really high spirits, and they’re hungry to repeat what we did last year.”
 
Those rookies got their biggest test to date on Saturday, when top-ranked Princeton beat No. 5 Rochester, 7-2. Vivek Dinodia ’16 rolled to a quick win at the No. 9 position, but Michael LeBlanc ’16 followed him with a three-game loss marked by inconsistent play at No. 8. The Tigers will have plenty of time to learn from those matches and tinker with their lineup, as their next contest isn’t until Jan. 12 — but that kicks off a six-week sprint to the team championships, including seven Ivy League contests and a rematch with No. 2 Trinity.
 

So far, Princeton is 4-0 in the young season, led by an impressive showing from its sophomore class; the Tigers’ Class of 2015 won all four of its matches on Saturday, dropping only three games between them. Lefty David Hoffman ’15, who has broken into the lineup at No. 7, won in a clean sweep, while Samuel Kang ’15, a scrawny, methodical player who has risen from No. 5 to No. 2, fought back from a 2-0 hole to dominate his final three games.
 
And of course, Princeton always has an ace up its sleeve in Todd Harrity ’13, the 2011 individual champion who is back for a fourth year at the No. 1 position. If the Tigers get in trouble — as they did briefly on Saturday, when Rochester tied the score 2-2 and led in another match — they can almost always count on Harrity for a drama-free victory in the final shift. “Todd is a force to be reckoned with on the college squash circuit,” Ward said. “Everyone knows, when you’re playing Todd, his opponents don’t really have much of a chance.”
 
Quick takes
 
MEN’S BASKETBALL was the victim of another second-half comeback on Saturday, leading Drexel by as many as 13 points before falling 64-57. Princeton has led by at least nine points in six of its eight games this season — and gone 2-4 in those contests. And a team that has played extremely well at home over the past two years is now 0-3 at Jadwin Gymnasium this season, though each defeat has been close.
 
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL suffered a similar fate at Delaware. In a battle of two of the East’s top mid-major programs (though both were without key contributors on Sunday), Princeton led by as many as 13 points in the first half; the Blue Hens got back into it, but the visitors took a 58-53 lead with three minutes left. From then on, the Tigers didn’t score again, and a layup in the final seconds gave Delaware a 59-58 victory.
 
MEN’S HOCKEY and WOMEN’S HOCKEY were each swept in their home-and-home series with Quinnipiac, scoring a total of three goals in four games. Both teams have shown flashes of strong play, including wins over top 10 teams, but it remains to be seen whether either will snap recent streaks of first-round exits from the ECAC tournament.
 
Julia Ratcliffe ’16 made quite a debut for WOMEN’S TRACK AND FIELD, breaking the school record in the weight throw at the New Year’s Invitational on Sunday. Three of her six tosses sailed past the previous mark — held by Thanithia Billings ’11 — including her longest, which went 64 feet, 3 inches.
 
Editor’s note: This is the final Monday column of 2012. Kevin Whitaker ’13’s weekly coverage of Princeton sports will resume January 14.
 

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Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.

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