The Elis played at the top of their game, en route to a 8-1 victory on the final day of the College Squash Association’s National Championship Tournament at the Brady Squash Center. Unfortunately, Yale was not playing in the title game.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Potter Team trophy was awarded to Trinity after the Bantams edged Harvard 5-4.
After defeating Cornell 9-0 Friday, the Yale men’s squash team was knocked out in the second round 8-1 by the Crimson the following day. But the Elis did not fold in Sunday’s consolation contest against Princeton. Adding to the excitement, Yale top seed Julian Illingworth ’06 dethroned nationally ranked No. 1 Yasser El Halaby in four games.
“Beating [Princeton] gives us satisfaction,” Anshul Manchanda ’04 said. “We have a big rivalry, and this is important.”
The Elis jumped out to a 3-0 lead Sunday. Gavin Cumberbatch ’05 and Manchanda each provided three-game sweep victories, and Terence Li ’04 added the third win. Manchanda capitalized on his opponent’s mistakes and minimized his own to win 9-5, 9-3, 9-1. Li did not play in the previous two rounds against Cornell and Harvard, but he entered the lineup to replace Andrew Vinci ’06, who sat out the final match with a groin injury against the Cantabs.
The second slate of matches was the same song but a different tune for the Elis. Josh Schwartz ’05 dispatched his Tiger opponent better than Siegfried and Roy. Schwartz maintained control of the middle of the court, keeping his opponent on the run and winning convincingly 3-0. Captain Ryan Byrnes ’04 did not have as easy a match.
Byrnes found himself facing defeat down 0-2 in games but recaptured the momentum in the third game. He won the final three games, giving the Elis the crucial fifth game to seal a team victory.
“It was a good way to end my career,” Byrnes said.
The Bulldogs’ lone loss came at the five seed, as Avner Geva ’06, who had not played in matches before this weekend due to back pain, was unable to overcome an early one game deficit.
The third set of matches held the most enticing match up of the weekend. Nationally ranked No. 2 Illingworth faced off against No. 1 El Halaby on the Nicholas Brady ’52 Exhibition Court. With the team victor already determined, the match was one for pride alone.
In front of a crowd of mainly teammates, the two top forces in collegiate squash traded strokes in long rallies that characterized the first game. Illingworth’s game plan to keep El Halaby deep with lobs and then win points with drop shots did not produce immediate results, and El Halaby took the first game 9-4.
Illingworth stuck to his plan and had success in the second game. Down 0-4, El Halaby left the court to switch rackets, muttering to himself. The equipment change had no effect on the outcome, and Illingworth clinched the game 9-3 when El Halaby’s shot hit tin.
“[El Halaby] has incredible shots, ” Illingworth said. “Lobbing keeps opponents from being aggressive.”
The third games did not start off well for Illingworth. The lobs that had previously kept El Halaby from firing his lethal shots got away from Illingworth and flew out the top of the court. Down 5-8, Illingworth regrouped and won five consecutive points to take the game and move nine points away from getting the monkey off his back.
In the break between the third and fourth games, El Halaby expressed his lack of interest in the game.
“I don’t even want to play him [Illingworth],” El Halaby said. “[Yale] already won the match.”
The two brought the fourth game to a 3-3 tie, and then Illingworth took control. He won serve and then added four straight points. To the cheers of “Here we go Julio” from his teammates Illingworth served for his eighth point, and El Halaby did not return the ball. El Halaby gave up on the match.
“It was one of the best matches I’ve ever played, and I’ll take it just like any other win,” Illingworth said. “I had to play with him to get him to give up. He realized that he was going to have to work hard to win, and he didn’t want to.”
Ironically, Illingworth was in a similar position the day before in the match against Harvard. After the Cantabs had secured team victory, Illingworth fell to William Broadbent in a match fit for Plymouth Rock. Illingworth defeated Broadbent 3-0 in their earlier meeting Feb. 14.
After coming back from 3-8 down in the second game to go up two games to one, Illingworth dropped the next two games and the match. With Broadbent on his heals, Illingworth threw his racquet to the ground, shattering the racquet.
“I was angry at myself for letting it get out of hand,” Illingworth said. ” But I did not think I was going to lose until it was 6-7 in the fifth game.”
Illingworth’s frustration was a microcosm for how the match went for the team. The Elis did not play any better than they did two weeks ago when Harvard embarrassed them 7-2 at Brady. The only bright spot on the afternoon was a 3-2 win from eighth seed Trevor Rees over Cantab Ziggy Whitman.
“We lost to a better disciplined team [Feb. 28],” assistant coach Gareth Webber said. “We made errors at key moments, but now we know what we have to do to get to the finals next year.”
Despite falling short of the ultimate goal, Yale head coach Dave Talbott said was happy to send the seniors off in the right way.
Although only two seniors were in the top nine at the beginning of the tournament, the nine members of the Class of 2004 provided motivation and leadership for the rest of the squad.
“We knew [the seniors] desperately wanted to play, and we owed it to them to win,” Cumberbatch said.
David Hathaway ’04 was one of the seniors who did not see action this weekend. He said that he would have liked to been playing for the national title, but the team was about more than just winning and losing.
Only two members of the Eli top nine, Manchanda and Byrnes, graduate, and the underclassmen know what it takes to get to the next level.
“This was a good way to end the year,” Byrnes said. “The seniors go out happy and the guys next year have good things to work off of.”