The Yale women’s squash team completed its first undefeated season in 18 years, winning the Howe Cup at the Brady Squash Center this weekend.
The Howe Cup completes a triple-crown for the Bulldogs who secured both the Ivy Title and the Barhite Trophy, the prize awarded for the National Championship, last weekend.
The No. 1 Elis (14-0, 6-0 Ivy) came in to the weekend tournament with two titles under their belts and the top seed in collegiate squash. Yale coasted in the first round on Friday in a 9-0 drubbing of No. 8 Williams. No. 4 Harvard gave the Elis more of a challenge in the semifinals on Saturday, but the Bulldogs still prevailed 6-3. The toughest challenge came from No. 2 Trinity in the finals on Sunday, as was expected. But even Yale’s Constitutional State rivals failed to stop the Elis, finally falling by a narrow margin of 5-4.
“I knew [our team] had a shot this year, but I knew it was going to be close with Trinity,” Yale head coach Mark Talbott said. “I was never over-confident. That match (Sunday’s contest against Trinity), that’s about as close as you can get.”
Against the Bantams on Sunday, Yale won the first three matches at the third, eighth and ninth positions by 3-0 scores. Trinity responded with victories at the fourth, fifth and sixth spots by scores of 3-1, 3-0 and 3-0 respectively.
The first close match of the day came at the two spot, where Yale’s Amy Gross ’06 faced off against Trinity’s Siu-Lynn Leong. In the two second seeds’ last meeting, on Jan. 20 this year, Leong won in four games while Gross was slowed by a nagging leg injury.
Sunday’s match looked as if it was going to end quickly as well, with Leong quickly up two games to none and ahead in the third game by a 5-1 score. But Gross won the next eight points to take the game. In two more hard fought games, Gross closed out the unlikely comeback 9-7 and 9-6, respectively.
“In such a long match I think it comes down to who is fitter and who wants it more,” Gross said. “And I really wanted to win.”
Talbott gave an explanation for Gross’ improbable comeback.
“It just came down to Amy’s competitive fire, and she’s had it since she was a kid,” Talbott said. “I’ve known her since she was 12 years old.”
The other five-game match of the day decided the contest. It came at the seventh spot, where Kate Rapisarda ’07 completed her personal undefeated season, defeating Trinity’s Fernanda Rocha 8-9, 9-6, 9-1, 6-9, 9-5. Rapisarda had not played in the previous two matches against Williams or Harvard due to a muscle strain in her left rib cage caused by a bad cough.
Throughout the deciding fifth game Rapisarda held her left side in pain. Like Gross, Rapisarda said it came down to who wanted to win more.
“After some points I didn’t think I’d be able to play another point,” Rapisarda said. “In that last game it was all mental, [and] fortunately the crowd kept me going.”
Rapisarda’s gutsy display was not the only one coming from the Yale squad. Saturday, the Elis’ eighth seed Lauren Doline ’05 was forced to default in her Harvard match after falling over her Crimson opponent, banging up her injury-prone knees, and falling headfirst into the wall. But Doline returned on Sunday, pulling an important win for the Bulldogs in straight games.
“[I] knew that I just had one match left — it was the end of the season, so I put it together and fought for the team,” Doline said.
In the last match of the day, the Elis’ top seed Michelle Quibell ’06 fell to Trinity senior Amina Helal in what was Helal’s last collegiate match. Quibell had beaten Helal twice before this season but fell on Sunday by a 3-0 score in a match both players knew had no baring on the outcome of the contest. Helal said with two teams of this skill, there is no telling who will come out on top.
“When you’ve got this level of competition, you just don’t know what’s going to happen,” Helal said.
Longtime Trinity head coach Wendy Bartlett had nothing but praise for the Elis. Coming into the match, Trinity had won two consecutive Howe Cup championships.
“Yale is a wonderful team to play,” Bartlett said. “They’re very sportsmanlike out there, and they fight hard. If I was going to lose, I’d like to lose to Yale.”
Eli ninth-seed Sarah Coleman ’05, who won her match in three games, said no one on the Yale squad came into Sunday underestimating Trinity.
“Trinity’s a really good team, and you can’t go into it saying, ‘I won last time, I should win this time,'” Coleman said. “You have to fight for everything because you know that they are.”
Even to the end, Talbott took little credit for the historic season. He had a hard time describing his feelings after the contest.
“I am in a little bit of shock right now,” Talbott said. “I am really happy for the girls and the team.”