Elis take pride in season despite poor finish

The men’s squash team entered the season with almost limitless expectations. Ranked third in the nation, the Elis trailed only No. 1 Trinity and No. 2 Harvard in the standings, and an Ivy title seemed well within their reach. But after the dust settled on the College Squash Association Team Championships, the season was over and Yale had fallen to No. 4 after a loss to Princeton in the consolation match.

Despite a disappointing end to the season, the Bulldogs’ regular season record (9-2, 5-1 Ivy) is nothing to be ashamed of. The Elis opened their season with a scorching six-game winning streak before suffering their first defeat of the year Jan. 26 at the hands of seven-time defending champion Trinity. The Bantams have not lost a match since the 1997-1998 season.

The Elis quickly rebounded from this setback with a 8-1 thrashing over Princeton, the team that would go on to upset the Bulldogs in the playoffs. Julian Illingworth ’06, who entered the season as the No. 3 player in the country, defeated No. 1 Yasser El-Halaby during the match.

After shutting out Brown in their next match, the Elis were pumped for their showdown with Harvard on Feb. 12. The Bulldogs finished second to Harvard in the Ivies in 2003 and 2004, and were hoping that 2005 was the year they could finally beat their arch-nemesis. But the Cantabs prevailed 6-3. The Elis were unable to defeat any of Harvard’s top four players, all of whom came into the season ranked in the nation’s individual top 10.

In the wake of the Harvard loss, the Bulldogs were a different team.

“Our goal was to win the Ivies,” Chris Wyant ’05 said. “We thought we had a shot. After our loss to Harvard, it was pretty hard to maintain focus.”

The Elis did score one more resounding victory (9-0 over Amherst) at the end of the regular season. But when the CSA tournament rolled around, the Bulldogs were nearly upset by the University of Western Ontario before losing 8-1 to Harvard in the semi-finals. They then lost the consolation match 6-3 to Princeton.

Despite the team’s disappointing finish, the 2004-2005 Yale squash season ended on a series of positive notes. After the CSA Team Championships, Illingworth earned All-American honors and a No. 2 ranking by making it all the way to the final round of the CSA Individual Championships. Nick Chirls ’07 made second team All-American with his performance.

“I had a pretty good weekend,” Chirls said. “I did better than expected, and moved up in the rankings. It was a good end to the season for most of us.”

Over spring break, Illingworth finished first in the S. L. Green United States Squash Championships to become the No. 1 squash player in America. Illingworth competed against professional squash players, some of whom were twice his age, to earn the honor.

“I’ve been knocking on the door in this tournament for a couple of years, and this year I had the maturity and poise to finally win it,” Illingworth said. “It hasn’t really hit me yet, but this has got to be the biggest single achievement I’ve had in my squash career so far.”

Though Yale fell to No. 4 this season, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in the squash program. The team is confident that they will improve.

“I guarantee we’re going to do better next year,” Illingworth said.

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