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The Princeton men's squash team may not have had the desired start to its season, but that could become a distant memory by the end of the weekend. The two-time defending Ivy League champions will open the 2014 league season with a tough road weekend, which begins in Boston against the second-ranked Crimson.
Seventh-ranked Princeton (2-2, 0-0 Ivy) will take on Harvard (5-0, 1-0) Saturday at 2 pm, and then will travel north to take on Dartmouth (1-2, 0-1) Sunday at noon. The Tigers won't play for more than two weeks after that for the finals break, and then will return for a brutal week that includes No. 1 Trinity and No. 3 Yale.
By the time Princeton plays Trinity, it will have played four road matches against Top 6 teams in the national poll. Of the four, none matters as much as Saturday's showdown in Boston, when one team will take a major first step in the Ivy League race. The last three meetings have been 5-4 thrillers, with Princeton claiming both regular-season showdowns. Harvard bounced back in the CSA team semifinal for a 5-4 victory that sent the Crimson to the championship match.
The Princeton-Harvard regular season showdown has ended two straight years with Dylan Ward, currently a senior co-captain, earning the clinching victory in a 5-4 Tiger win. Two seasons ago, Ward topped Zeke Scherl in four game at No. 7; last season, Ward moved up three spots and defeated Tyler Olson in four games.
Ward won't close a Princeton win this season, but he'd love to lay a strong foundation. At the No. 3 spot, Ward will be part of an opening shift that will try to put early pressure on the favored Crimson.
The match will feature four of the nation's top players battling in the top two matches. The No. 2 match is likely to feature Princeton's Tyler Osborne against Harvard's Brandon McLaughlin, both of whom have All-America aspirations this season. The No. 1 match will likely feature 2012 national champion Ali Farag of Harvard taking on Princeton's Samuel Kang; during the second round of last year's individual championships, Kang pushed Farag to a tough four-game match before eventually losing 3-1.
For Princeton to win, it will need to rely on more than just its top three players. Several starters who gained crucial experience during the 2013 Ivy championship season will need to earn wins over higher-ranked opponents. In five regular-season contests, Harvard hasn't lost an individual match, though it hasn't faced a Top 8 opponent either.
On Sunday, Princeton will look to repeat its strong performance from last season against the Big Green. Every returning starter from that match earned a win over Dartmouth, including the junior duo of Taylor Tutrone and David Hoffman.