Buried deep in the annals of Yale athletic lore — obscured by the time Harvard beat Yale 29-29 and the triumphs of countless frigid nights at Ingalls Rink — is the little-known fact that Yale is a squash school.
Both the men’s and women’s squash teams have contended for national championships for decades, and the 2004-05 bunch, which included a women’s team that breezed to Howe Cup, Ivy League, and national championships, featured a combined seven all-Americans.
The names of Michelle Quibell ’06 (two-time women’s collegiate national champ) and Julian Illingworth ’06 (2005 men’s United States national champ) are still less known than those of Casey Hughes ’07 and Chandler Henley ’06, however, because the success of the squash teams has not engendered Yale Bowl-like spectatorship. Keeping up with the quashings of the squash teams each winter is for most students a passive endeavor; in a manner not unlike the admiration of a heart surgeon, most marvel at their success but haven’t the least interest in witnessing the spectacle.
Yalies opt instead for football (for which Henley plays wide receiver), men’s basketball (in which Hughes excites with high-flying dunks), men’s ice hockey, and men’s lacrosse. “Everything else,” as one News colleague put it, “is just roommates and parents.”
Football marks the start of the spectator season. Although the gargantuan Yale Bowl always seems empty unless Harvard’s in town, football is by far Yale’s best-attended sport. The major outdoor attraction in the fall — women’s soccer, though good, and men’s soccer, though bad, do not garner much attention from students — football games provide the light at the end of the tunnel for hundreds of Yalies exhausted from the long work week. For some, however, the tailgate — not the game — is the main event.
“I love tailgates,” Daphne Miller ’06 said. “For football, nine times out of 10 you won’t make it to the game at all.”
To Miller and many others, tailgating is indeed a sport in its own right. At last year’s rendition of The Game — an embarrassing 35-3 loss Nov. 20 in Cambridge — Yale’s tailgaters produced more alcohol-related hospital visits than its offense did points.
On certain occasions, Yalies gather for volleyball games too, as they did this fall when the Bulldogs reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. But the majority of the autumn focus falls on the gridiron.
When the temperature drops after the fall — or, according to some, during the fall — students venture indoors to enjoy men’s hockey and basketball games.
Ingalls Rink, the 3,486-seat gem completed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen in 1958, sits like a beacon at the corner of Prospect and Sachem Streets. Affectionately dubbed the “Yale Whale” by students for its humpback shape, the rink houses both the men’s and women’s hockey teams.
Having participated in the first American intercollegiate hockey game in 1896, the men’s team has a storied past which has only been enriched by current head coach Tim Taylor. The former captain of the Harvard team, Taylor took over Yale’s bench in 1976 and has since become the program’s winningest coach. During his tenure the Bulldogs have won six Ivy titles and the head coaching position became an endowed chair.
The comparably less celebrated women’s team, though on the rise, does not generally draw many fans, while the men routinely play in front of sellout crowds.
“I really like watching hockey because it’s a close space,” Miller said. “So when everyone’s screaming and excited there’s a lot of energy in the building.”
Bob Burns ’07, a forward on the men’s team, spoke last season about the feeling of playing in front of a sellout crowd.
“Last year when we played Harvard, that was the most fun game to play by far because that whole section was packed with students,” he said. “Everyone was going crazy.”
Although it does not have the historic program of ice hockey, basketball draws thousands for every game.
Sunken below ground level in the towering Payne Whitney Gymnasium, the John J. Lee Amphitheater, which houses the volleyball and gymnastics squads in addition to the two basketball teams, is an intimate, fan-friendly space. The close quarters the Amphitheater provides motivates the Bulldogs on the court.
“That’s the most fun because where our fans sit, they’re right on the court, inches away when you take the ball in,” point guard Eric Flato ’08 said. “Against Brown, I threw Casey [Hughes] an alley-oop from like half court and as soon as he got it he dunked it. And everyone erupted. That was pretty cool.”
As hard as it is for some to believe, winter does eventually end, and the spectator sports again move outdoors. Baseball and softball games are attended by some, but most students do not have the patience to sit through doubleheaders. Beginning with games in early March, men’s lacrosse, according to attackman Dan Brillman ’06, is the harbinger of spring.
“New Haven winter isn’t that good, so once the weather gets nice it’s good to go out and see a game in the spring,” he said. “And, as a player, it’s an exhilarating experience — probably one of the best experiences one can have in college — to have your best friends come out and watch you do something you love.”
Miller is among those friends who attend the men’s lacrosse games. But hers is a less wholesome reason.
“I love lax, but that’s because their men are sexy,” she said.