If the NCAA basketball tournament is the Big Dance, the College Squash Association tournament is the minute waltz. At the end of this weekend, one squad will rise up from the pack of eight to claim national championship glory.
The single-elimination tournament commences Friday in the Brady Squash Center. The Yale men’s squash team (10-2, 5-1 Ivy) finds itself seeded third. The Elis can thank the Harvard Crimson, with whom they share the bottom half of the Potter Division bracket, for their recent demotion from No. 2. The Crimson (7-1, 6-0) defeated the Bulldogs 2-7 Feb. 14, taking the Dawg’s No. 2 ranking and the Ivy League title.
The Elis begin their bid for a crown Friday at 1:30 against sixth-seed Cornell (8-4, 2-4). The Bulldogs demolished the Big Red 9-0 at the teams’ last meeting Jan. 18. Eli head coach Dave Talbott said he is expecting similar results to generate some momentum for his squad.
After an embarrassing performance against the Cantabs, the Elis rebounded to knock off Brown (4-9, 0-6) and Amherst (9-7). These matches, along with three weeks of practice, should have the Bulldogs well-prepared for a likely rematch Saturday with Harvard in the semifinals.
“We must play better,” Talbott said. “You don’t always get a chance to redeem yourself, and we have to take advantage.”
The Elis’ practices have focused on patience, and Talbott is still shuffling his lineup. The return of Avner Geva ’06, who has been out with back problems, will add strength to the Bulldogs’ top five.
“With Avner, we can get out of the chute better with our even seeds,” Trevor Rees ’06 said. “We will still be in matches when the odds go on.”
The only two teams to beat the Elis this year stand in their way to a national title. If the tournament progresses as expected, a Harvard semi-final will be followed with a championship showdown against No. 1 Trinity (16-0). The Bantam juggernaut resides in the top half of the bracket and will have to dispatch Penn and Princeton to reach the finals for what could be its fifth straight championship. If the Elis square off against Trinity in the title match Sunday at noon, they will attempt to stop the longest consecutive win streak in history at 88. Both matches promise to challenge the Elis, but Talbott said his team is focused only on the task at hand — Cornell.
“You cannot just expect to beat [Cornell],” captain Ryan Byrnes ’04 said. “We have to play hard.”
The Bulldogs have the weight of the No. 2 ranking off of their shoulders and are playing with nothing to lose.
For the nine seniors on this year’s squad, this weekend is the end of a four-year commitment and could be the perfect send-off. But Byrnes said the graduating class does not feel much pressure. The remainder of the Eli team has followed suit and relishes the role of underdog.
“We just have to be relaxed and have a little fun,” Byrnes said.
A calm and collected squad is a squad that can be a serious contender for the title, Talbott said. Relaxed players draw points out longer and do not make errors trying to win points early. Long points have been the Elis’ modus operandi, have brought them this far in the season, and could bring them to the promised land.
“We’ve got an opportunity to win this thing if we play our style,” Talbott said.