The look on Dave Talbott’s face last night said it all.
Although Yale’s women’s squash team was up 3-1 against the Trinity Bantams, five matches had yet to be decided. The two-time defending national champion Bulldogs were in trouble. And as the Eli head coach recorded the early results on a whiteboard for the crowd that had swarmed Brady Squash Center early Wednesday evening, he knew the outcome was going to be close.
“It’s going to be a tight one,” Talbott said, as he paced the courts to offer support to his players who were still competing, his face red with anticipation and his eyes alive with unflinching resolve.
In the end the Yale women (7-0, 3-0 Ivy) pulled through, narrowly fending off the Bantams (4-1), 5-4, in a match proving that although it may be the best in the nation, the Eli ladder is not bulletproof. The Bulldogs began their season by steamrolling the competition, but during last night’s game — the first tough test of the team’s grit — they struggled to overcome a No. 3 squad that was not expected to pose a large threat.
Defending individual champion Michelle Quibell ’06 was blunt in her evaluation of the Bulldogs’ performance.
“I don’t think we played our best match today,” she said. “They definitely gave us a run for our money and we were lucky to pull this one out.”
Quibell gave up her first game to the Bantams’ Larissa Stephenson, but rallied to win the next three and grabbed seven straight points for the victory. At No. 2, Miranda Ranieri ’08 prevailed against Lauren Polonich, 3-2, winning by a slim margin of just two points in the final game. But captain Amy Gross ’06, who narrowed an 8-0 gap in her fifth game to just three, could not come from behind to top Trinity’s Vaidehi Reddy.
The match came down to No. 3 Catherine McLeod ’07, who was the final player on the courts and did not disappoint, trouncing Bantam freshman Ashley Clackson, 3-0. Fans moved from Quibell’s victory on center court back to watch McLeod, who has not lost a match in her collegiate career, secure a Bulldog victory that proved to be much closer than predicted.
On paper, Trinity was expected to be the easiest of the trials for the Elis against the “big three” of college squash, which is comprised of the Bantams, Harvard and Princeton. Gross said last night’s match will serve as a lesson for the Elis during the rest of their season, reminding them not to underestimate any team.
“There were so many close matches we pulled out,” Gross said. “I think it’s going to make us very focused for the next few weeks.”
Players said they did not know what the exact Trinity line-up would look like before the match, but they said they were familiar with all of their opponents from past seasons and the junior circuit. Ranieri said she had played Polonich many times previously and knew what to expect, although she could not predict what the final outcome would be.
“We have similar styles, so I knew what I was supposed to do to win, but I knew it would be difficult,” she said. “It brings back memories of the Harvard match last year because I was struggling and down 2-0 but I knew I needed to win.”
The Bulldogs may still be the favorites, but they will have to bring out their fighting spirit if they are to win a third consecutive triple crown of Ivy, Howe Cup, and national titles. Talbott knew last night was a close call for the national champions, but as his men’s squad fell to a seemingly unbeatable Trinity empire, he seemed almost relieved with the results of the women’s match. One Eli team was still undefeated.
“Thank God for the women,” he said.