Though it will be Valentine’s Day when the women of Eli squash take on No. 4 Harvard this weekend. But when these rivals meet on the hardwood of the Brady Squash Center Saturday, the Elis will not be showing the Cantabs any love.
If the Elis can pull out a victory this weekend at home, they will almost be assured a national title.
But if the ball does not bounce the Bulldogs’ way, No. 1 Yale (9-0, 4-0 Ivy) will be thrown into a three-way tie with No. 2 Trinity and No. 3 Princeton, both of whom beat Harvard earlier this season. Yale head coach Mark Talbott is not sure how the national champion would be determined in such a case, but he does not want to find out.
“I think if we were to lose to Harvard it would be a three-way split then [of the national title],” Talbott said. “So it’s kind of important that we win this match. It’s definitely the biggest match that I’ve had since I’ve been here — the biggest match for the team.”
In addition to deciding the nation’s top prize, the contest Saturday could also bring an end to Harvard’s three-year reign over the Ivy crown.
The Crimson has posted strong victories over Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania, while dropping a contest to Trinity by a score of 8-1 and, more recently to Princeton by a 5-4 tally. But the Elis can draw confidence from the fact that they have beaten both of the teams to which Harvard lost. The Bulldogs barely edged Trinity by a 5-4 score on Jan. 20 and easily defeated Princeton by an 8-1 score 10 days later.
Against Princeton, the Cantabs won at the one through four positions, but dropped the bottom five matches. Talbott believes Yale can capitalize on depth just as the Tigers did against the Crimson.
“[Harvard’s] top three or four players are pretty good,” Talbott said. “I think that we tend to have a little stronger depth at the bottom. That’s true of most of the teams we’ve played — our strength is in our depth.”
Last season, Yale scored an 8-1 victory over Harvard in the Howe Cup semifinals on Feb. 15, 2003, before going on to lose to Trinity in the finals the next day. But four days later in a competition to determine the Ivy champion, the Crimson stunned the Elis 5-4.
With the score tied at four matches each, the contest came down to the final match of the day at the number one spot, which the Elis’ Michelle Quibell ’06 lost in four games to Harvard’s Louisa Hall.
Currently, Quibell is the top-ranked player in the nation while Hall sits at the fourth spot. The two rivals will meet again this weekend. Talbott does not believe his number one will have any problems this time around.
“I think Michelle’s a whole different player this year,” Talbott said. “A large part of that is she’s mentally much stronger this year. I think she was a little burned out last year, and I think she’ll tell you that too. I think [right now] is the best Michelle has ever played.”
In addition to Quibell, Talbott also believes that the rest of the team is playing in top physical form. Still, Talbott wants to make sure the team is well rested in the days before the match.
“It has been a long season, and I just want to be careful the next few days,” Talbott said. “We don’t want people to burn out.”
Captain Devon Dalzell ’04 believes the early-season training the team conducted has already paid off for this Eli team, and will continue to do so.
“We feel really good,” Dalzell said. “This is the hardest any team has worked for the past four years.”
Part of the reason the Elis have worked so hard is the anguish of last season’s loss. Quibell said everyone has the events of last year in the back of their minds, but no one is nervous.
“Last year was painful,” Quibell said. “We want revenge so badly. I think we’re feeling pretty confident coming in — we heard that Harvard lost to Princeton 5-4.”
The Eli two-seed and the fifth-ranked player in collegiate squash, Amy Gross ’06, was quick to dismiss the idea that the Elis are cocky.
“I think we’re not going into the match overly confident,” Gross said. “I think everyone wants to get out there and give it their all, and just play as hard as we can. We know that this match is the match.”