The Bulldogs are one contest away from satiating a 14-year hunger. This Saturday, the main course comes to Brady Squash Center in the form of Harvard.
The Yale men’s squash team (8-1, 4-0 Ivy) will have to fight it out in all its matches to lay claim to its first Ivy League title since 1990.
But the Elis are not expecting any handouts from the Crimson (6-1, 5-0). The two squads have been almost identical against common opponents this season. Harvard defeated Princeton 7-2 and lost to Trinity 2-7. The Elis beat the Tigers 6-3 and fell to Trinity 3-6.
On paper, the Bulldogs have a leg up at the number one seed with Julian Illingworth ’06. Illingworth was recently elevated to the second best player in the nation and will likely take on Harvard’s Will Broadbent, the No. 5 player in nation. Past the top seed, the Elis are almost looking into a mirror.
“Two through nine [seeds are] dead even,” Yale head coach David Talbott said. “[Harvard is] like us, very deep.”
Talbott expects a close match going down to the wire. He is predicting a 4-4 tie going into the ninth and final match, and said he would be confident with any of his boys playing for all the marbles.
“They’re all ready,” Talbott said. “These kids want the opportunity.”
Pressure is an old friend of the Elis. The world of Ivy squash is much like a single-elimination tournament — one loss often dashes any hope for a title — and this year is no exception. Even the Yale freshmen have encountered stress on the courts.
“I get very nervous [under pressure],” Nick Chirls ’07 said. “I start slow and then settle down, and I get confident.”
With so much up for grabs and the relative equality of both squads, the Bulldogs must keep a level head despite the enormous implications of the match. Not only will the Elis be playing for a league title, but they will also be doing it in front of a packed house of Yale squash alumni. The annual alumni weekend festivities end with the showdown between the Elis and Cantabs.
The Bulldogs will attempt to employ their usual strategy of drawing out matches to capitalize on their fast home courts. By grinding down their opponents and making matches a fitness test, the Elis can take advantage of their opponents being used to slower, plaster courts.
The key factor for the Bulldogs this weekend will be keeping an even keel and playing within themselves. Talbott said his squad does not need to play over their heads to win, but the tension could become a problem. He stressed the importance of each player focusing only on his match.
“The biggest thing is not to worry how everybody else is doing, and just take care of your own business,” Talbott said.
The nature of squash creates a dichotomy for players. Each match is played out individually, but the team implications are difficult to ignore. Players can easily put too much pressure on themselves if they are always looking at the team scoreboard. Aided by the leadership of his squad’s eight seniors, Talbott has taught his younger players to focus on their own matches and worry about the team score after they leave the court.
“Nobody cares who [which seed] wins,” Talbott said. “We just know we need five.”
Even seniors who will not play in the top nine seeds have contributed greatly to the squad’s success by heightening younger players’ desire to win. They will serve as quasi-coaches during the match, shouting encouragement from the stands and mentoring the younger players between games.
“We [the seniors] have all been to this match before.” Brad Hathaway ’04 said. “We know what we are up against, and we know we are better.”