The Yale women’s squash team won its first National Championship since 1992 and its first Ivy title since 1986 this Valentine’s Day on the hardwood of the Brady Squash Center, defeating Harvard 7-2.
No. 1 Yale (10-0, 5-0 Ivy) came into the competition looking to dethrone three-time Ivy champion No. 4 Harvard (5-3, 4-2), and the Bulldogs did so with ease. Michelle Quibell ’06, the Eli top seed and the top-ranked player in collegiate squash, won in four games over Harvard senior Louisa Hall, who is ranked fourth in nation. The Bulldogs’ six other victories were each 3-0 contests. The two Eli losses came off two five-game marathons at the fourth and fifth spots from Frances Ho ’05 and Rachita Vora ’06, respectively.
“We came into this match wanting to beat [Harvard] really, really decisively,” Michelle Quibell ’06 said. “We aimed at a 9-0 victory, so everyone went in with their match counting for a lot even though not everyone was the deciding match.”
Saturday’s boxscore played right into the Elis’ expectations. Going into the weekend, the Bulldogs anticipated a challenge at the top five seeds, while they said they hoped their depth in the bottom half of the order would carry the day.
“[Harvard’s] top 3 or 4 players are pretty good,” Yale head coach Talbott said before this weekend. “[But] I think that we tend to have a little stronger depth at the bottom.”
Quibell said she felt her match against Hall failed to live up to her expectations. Last season, the top-seeded rivals split their two meetings. In the second of these two match-ups, Quibell’s defeat in the deciding match of the contest gave the Cantab’s their third consecutive Ivy Championship.
“[Saturday’s play] definitely wasn’t pretty squash from either of us,” Quibell said. “I’ve seen her play a lot better. I feel like she wasn’t completely in it at all times.”
The lower level of play was most noticeable in the decisive fourth game. Hall, down two games to one, led 7-1 in the fourth game. But the Crimson top seed dropped eight straight points to lose the match.
Harvard head coach Satinder Bajwa, who heads both the Cantabs men’s and women’s team, said he felt his number one might not have been as focused, knowing her team had already lost by the time she took the court.
“[There may have been] a little bit of a lapse of concentration on Louisa’s part knowing that we had lost the match,” Bajwa said.
Before the contest began, both teams’ players were introduced to the packed Brady Squash Center at the Nicholas F. Brady ’52 Court where the seniors from both teams were given special recognition. For two Elis, Abbie McDonough ’04 and captain Devon Dalzell ’04, this was their last home match. Talbott praised his two veteran leaders, who could not have been more pleased at the end of the day.
“It was my final home match, and it was the best thing that could have possibly happened,” McDonough said through her tears.
Dalzell had a nearly identical reaction.
“It’s been the most amazing way to end our four years here on one of the best teams,” Dalzell said. “We have chemistry on the court and off the court, and I think that’s one of the most important factors of our success this year.”
Despite putting on a show, Dalzell and company did not hesitate to give credit to their head coach, Mark Talbott. Taking a team photo under a banner proclaiming their status as both Ivy League and national champions, the Elis refused to proceed without Talbott. Dalzell said none of the players would be where they are today without her coach.
“[Talbott] was the first to tell us that we could be national champions this year and has been our rock throughout the entire season,” Dalzell said. “He inspires everyone to give 100 percent at practice, and I don’t think there are many people who can make you work your ass off and still be smiling about it at the end of the day.”
But even with this weekend’s historic triumph, the season is not yet over for the Bulldogs, who still have one more regular season match to go against Brown this Tuesday. That match will have no bearing on the Ivy title.
Feb. 20-22, the Elis will look to complete their “Triple Crown” at the Howe Cup, the equivalent a postseason tournament for the top eight teams in women’s collegiate squash teams.
There is a strong likelihood that the Elis will meet Harvard again in a rematch in the semifinals if both teams win their first round contests. Bajwa says his team will be ready for a second meeting.
“We’d like to compete better than we did today in terms of paper score,” Bajwa said. “Things can change. You’ve got to be optimistic. Is Yale the favorite? Yes, they’ve been unbeaten. We cannot doubt that fact.”
With one trophy — the Barhite Cup — already in their case, the Elis are ready to acquire some more hardware.
“I feel like we’re all still on a high [originating from the victory over Trinity Jan. 20],” Amy Gross ’06 said. “We’re like: Okay, we’ve got one title down, let’s get another one.”
Talbott said he knows it will be hard to keep the current level of intensity, but said he feels his team has prepared for the possibility of a championship sweep all season long, and is ready to win it all.
“It’s not easy, but I think this team is pretty focused,” Talbott said. “We’ve talked about it for a long time — that they’re capable of not only winning the national championship, but of winning the [Howe Cup] as well. It’s a determined group of women, and I just believe they can do it.”
Yet Quibell said there is still a huge sense of relief at having won the Barhite Trophy.
“After we beat Trinity it was just a matter of getting [the rest of the regular season] over in a way,” Quibell said. “I think our whole team feels really relieved that it’s over and we did it and we can now say that we’re national champions.”