There is an aphorism printed on the walls of Brady Squash Center that reads “Play hard, good things will happen.”
For the Yale men’s squash team, this message rings closer to home than for most other visitors to the Brady Center.
After going 17-2 last season, the Eli missed the Ivy League title by one point. In a heartbreaker against Princeton in Feb. 2003, Yale’s top seed Julian Illingworth ’06 was up 2-0 with match ball in the third game, but Princeton star Yasser El-Halaby came back and won both the match and the contest for the Tigers in front of a packed house in New Haven.
“This is a very competitive league,” Gavin Cumberbatch ’05 said. “Each time you take it to the court, you have to give 100 percent.”
This season, the Bulldogs are hungry for another shot at both Princeton and the league crown.
All signs point to an easier time for the Elis this winter. In early November, the Elis won the Ivy League scrimmage, moving into the number two spot in the national rankings. In addition, Princeton — Yale’s main nemesis from last season — graduated four All-Americans last year.
“This team is built to win this year,” Yale head coach David Talbott said. “We have to take advantage of this group. These opportunities do not come every year. This is the best team Yale has had in the past ten years.”
The Elis boast two All-Americans — Illingworth and Anshul Manchanda ’04 — and have both depth and strength on this year’s squad. Illingworth, Manchanda, Avner Geva ’06, Joshua Schwartz ’05 and Cumberbatch are nationally ranked among the top 25 collegiate men’s squash players. Nick Chirls ’07 and James Rector ’07 have been named “freshmen to watch” by the national collegiate squash Web site.
“We used to win with depth,” Talbott said. “Now, we have a solid number one in Julian [Illingworth].”
Talbott is in his 21st season coaching the Elis, and, with eight seniors on the squad, he said the team has a sense of urgency to win now.
Cumberbatch agrees with his coach about the imperative of redeeming themselves from last season.
“Each year is unpredictable,” Cumberbatch said. “As a junior and coming so close freshman and sophomore years, it’s our time.”
Another important advantage for the Elis will be the Brady Center’s faster courts, which are built from a different material than the older facilities at other schools.
Talbott said playing their toughest opponents — nationally-ranked No. 1 Trinity and No. 3 Harvard — at home could be a crucial factor for the Elis.
Talbott believes that home-court advantage will give the Elis a one-match edge, a difference that would have given the Bulldogs the title last year.
The Elis capitalized on this home-court advantage last night, completing a 14-match sweep of William’s. The Bulldogs dominated, winning each match three games to none. The Ephs never got closer than 9-6 in any of their games.
“We did what we were supposed to do [against Williams],” captain Ryan Byrnes ’04 said. “It was fun to play against somebody new, but we have not proven anything yet.”
With seven of its eight teams in the national top ten, the Ivy League is the most difficult squash conference in the nation. The Elis begin league play this Saturday when they travel to Philadelphia to face the nationally No. 7 University of Pennsylvania.