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Coming off their first Ivy League title, the Lions will fight for the national title next weekend.

No. 2 men’s squash concluded its historic season of conference play on Sunday with a 5-4 victory over No. 6 Penn to claim the Ivy League Championship for the first time ever.

The match followed two days after Columbia’s (14-1 overall, 7-0 Ivy) 8-1 defeat of No. 7 Princeton (9-4 overall, 4-3 Ivy), which ensured at least a share of the title with Harvard, a team which the Lions also notably defeated for the first time ever just weeks ago. Sunday’s victory, however, confirmed Columbia’s perfect conference record and sole ownership of the crown.

Following a swift defeat of Princeton on Friday, each player battled against their respective Penn (10-4 overall, 4-3 Ivy) opponent to notch a thrilling 5-4 win over the Quakers on Sunday. The match was clinched by senior captain and reigning College Squash Association national champion Osama Khalifa, who plays in the top position for the Lions.

“It was the best moment ever,” Khalifa said of the win. “We’ve all worked so hard for this title. For it to all come together was literally a dream come true.”

Khalifa demonstrated his composure on Sunday as he was not fazed after being upset in Friday night’s match by Princeton’s Youssef Ibrahim. Ibrahim, a standout first-year on Princeton’s roster, topped Khalifa in a five set thriller 6-11, 11-7, 12-14, 11-8, 11-7, posting the only win of the night for the Tigers.

The performances of Columbia’s two other senior captains and of promising underclassmen were also essential to Columbia’s win on Sunday. Senior captain Seif Attia won a tough match against Penn’s Marwan Mahmoud in five sets 11-8, 9-11, 11-3, 8-11, 11-8 playing in the three position. His victory placed Columbia ahead 2-1 in the first round of competition.

First-years Velavan Senthilkumar and Krish Kapur then notched key wins in the two and eight positions, respectively, against their Penn opponents in the second round of play. Kapur and Senthilkumar have both made important contributions throughout the season and boast impressive individual records. Kapur is now 14-1 and Senthilkumar is 12-1 after the weekend.

With the match tied 3-3 entering the third round, senior captain Arhum Saleem posted a win against Penn’s Karim Tarek. However, Saleem’s definitive 11-7, 11-3, 11-2 win was matched by Penn’s Wil Hagen, who defeated Columbia’s first-year McClain Awalt in three sets playing in the nine slot.

It was then up to Khalifa to secure the win for Columbia with the score tied 4-4. Khalifa delivered, beating Penn’s Andrew Douglas in three sets 11-7, 11-4, 11-9 to claim the match and championship for the Lions.

This is Columbia’s first Ivy League title in the program’s short eight-year history. The Lions have finished in second place for the past three years behind Harvard, which Columbia defeated for the first time earlier this season to usurp the No. 2 CSA national ranking. Harvard (11-1 overall, 6-1 Ivy) is now ranked second in the Ivy League and third in the nation behind Columbia. Columbia’s players, especially its upperclassmen, are cherishing the historic end to the season.

“We’ve come so close these past three years, and to be able to clinch it our senior year is an unbelievable experience,” said Saleem.

With the College Squash Association Team and Individual Championships impending, the Lions will not become complacent with their current achievements and will look to test themselves again on a national scale.

“We’re going to take a couple days off [after Sunday’s win], but we are definitely planning to stay focused, stay hungry, and look for another title,” Attia said. “This team is just clicking and everything is falling into place.”

Men’s squash will compete next for a national title in the College Squash Association Team Championships on Friday, Feb. 23 through Sunday, Feb. 25 in Hartford, Connecticut. Times are to be announced.

alex.andrejev@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

Columbia Lions Men's Squash Squash
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