If the men’s squash team is going to prevail this weekend in Cambridge at the College Squash Association Team Championships, it will have to overcome some old demons.
In the first round of the Championships today, the No. 3 Elis face No. 6 University of Western Ontario, a team they blanked 9-0 on Jan. 21. If the Bulldogs win, they will likely face No. 2 Harvard in Saturday’s semi-finals. The Cantabs open against No. 7 Cornell.
The last time Yale played Harvard, the Elis brought high hopes and an undefeated record with them to Cambridge. They returned with neither intact, suffering a demoralizing 6-3 loss to the Cantabs on Feb. 12 that cost them the Ivy title.
“That loss to Harvard was very difficult for us,” Josh Schwartz ’05 said. “We spent such a large chunk of the season preparing for that match.”
But after a issuing a 9-0 flogging to No. 14 Amherst two days later, the Bulldogs announced to the squash world that they were not ready to give up. Despite a lackluster showing in the United States Squash Racquets Association exhibition tournament last weekend, in which they lost four split-squad matches, the underdog Bulldogs are getting ready to mount a challenge to the Cantabs in the CSAs.
This week in practice, the Elis focused more on match preparation than on drills in order to better prepare themselves for the tournament.
“Practice has been pretty good this week,” Julian Illingworth ’06 said. “We played a lot of challenge matches to get ready to compete. People bounced back. Last week was pretty much a joke. I think we remembered how much we wanted to beat Harvard, and that helped us get back into the flow.”
In accordance with CSA regulations, all teams had to release their lineup for the tournament in advance. There was a major surprise in the Cantabs’ lineup — notably the shift of Harvard’s Will Broadbent to No. 4. Broadbent came into the season ranked No. 2 in the national individual rankings, and has been playing at No. 2 all year. Rosters must remain consistent throughout the tournament, and Yale players said they thought Harvard altered its lineup to match up better with the Bantams in a possible championship showdown.
“Harvard is putting out a lineup that’s unlike anything they had all year,” Chris Wyant ’05 said. “They want to make it more favorable to beating Trinity. We think it’s a sign of them looking past us. We’re not worried though. In fact, we think this lineup will work to our advantage.”
Barring a catastrophic upset, the winner of the semifinal will face Trinity, the six-time defending national champions. However, the odds of any team beating the Bantams are slim. The Bantams have not lost a match since the 1997-98 season.
The Bulldogs came painfully close to knocking off Trinity last year, losing 6-3. This year, the Bantams reasserted their prowess, crushing the Elis 8-1 on Jan. 26 in Hartford. However, Illingworth defeated former individual national champion Bernardo Samper at No. 1 to pick up Yale’s only win.
As the CSA’s approach, the Bulldogs’ attention is on Harvard. But like James Taylor’s Carolina, Trinity is always on the Elis’ minds.
“The focus of our weekend is first on Harvard,” Schwartz said. “But it’s still the national championship, and we do have a shot at the national title if we beat Harvard.”