Only three days after a demoralizing 8-1 loss to No. 1 Trinity, the men’s squash team found itself on the winning side of an 8-1 match, slamming No. 7 Princeton Saturday in New Haven. Julian Illingworth ’06 upset the Tigers’ Yasser El-Halaby, the No. 1 ranked player in the country, in a dramatic 3-2 comeback win.
The Elis (6-1, 4-0 Ivy) charged out of the gate, winning their first five games. Although the next four were hotly contested, Yale won three, giving them a resounding victory.
“Although we won 8-1, it was still a very hard-fought match,” Josh Schwartz ’05 said. “Going into the match, we were the favored team, but we knew that if we played sloppy we could lose. Overall it was a great performance from the entire team as we truly dominated Princeton.”
Captain Gavin Cumberbatch ’05 said that the Bulldogs were very disappointed after Wednesday’s loss to Trinity. The Elis had hoped to challenge and perhaps defeat the Bantams, who have won six championships in a row. This weekend’s performance against the Tigers was the perfect antidote to a devastating defeat.
“We went in to Trinity thinking we could surprise them and take them down,” Nick Chirls ’07 said. “We had the talent, but we simply could not capitalize. We came back here a bit demoralized and down. So our goal [on Saturday] was to really try and beat Princeton as bad as possible. We expected to win, but we know they always play hard.”
The highlight of the day was an epic duel between two of the top players in the country — No. 3 Illingworth and No. 1 El-Halaby. After losing his first two games, Illingworth made an astonishing comeback, winning the next three games to defeat two-time defending inter-collegiate champion El-Halaby.
“Yasser came out and was playing unbelievable in the first game — he literally shot me off the court,” Illingworth said. “The second game I got more stuck in, leveled it at 7-7 before he closed out the game. I wasn’t really thinking about winning after the second game, I just wanted to make it a good match, but after he seemed to tire in the third game it gave me some motivation and helped me to push myself.”
Following Saturday’s victory, Illingworth’s national ranking will probably rise from number three to number one. But Illingworth, the only player to defeat El-Halaby twice in his college career, has great respect for the Princeton star.
“I feel that when I am on my game, my best game will beat anyone else’s best game in college squash, except for his best game, which I think still beats mine,” Illingworth said. “But I think I am a little more consistent, and have a little more determination in matches.”
Illingworth and the Elis were scheduled to play Denison this coming weekend, but the game was cancelled. As a result, their match against Brown is being moved up to Saturday, and the Bulldogs will face their Ivy foe at 2 p.m. in the Brady Squash Center.
But the focus is now on a different Ivy League team — Harvard. The Elis hope to wrest the No. 2 ranking from the Cantabs in Cambridge on Feb 12.
“We are going to ride the momentum and make use of the next two weeks we have at home to do some necessary training and be prepared for our big match-up against Harvard,” Cumberbatch said.
The Bulldogs will practice with extra intensity over the next few weeks to achieve this goal.
“We have to push ourselves to the peak and support each other by playing our very best in the squash court,” Ho Ming Chiu ’08 said. “In the following weeks, we will concentrate on the individual weaknesses we learnt from the loss to Trinity and improve our skills. We have confidence in winning the Ivy League title this year.”