The No. 5 women’s squash team emerged from its most important weekend to date with its hopes for an Ivy League title evaporated but the chances of a national championship still alive.
Saturday and Sunday featured two must-win Ivy matches for the Bulldogs (9–3, Ivy 2–2) against No. 1 Princeton (8–0, Ivy 4–0) and No. 3 Penn (10–2, Ivy 3–2). The Elis, now out of the running for the Ivy League title, fell to Princeton 5–4 and Penn 7–2.
Going into this do-or-die weekend, the Bulldogs suffered a devastating blow this week in practice when Kim Hay ’14 suffered a season-ending injury. Hay, ranked No. 6 in the nation, has been crucial to the success of the team so far this season.
Hay’s teammates and coaches agree that Kim’s injury was one of the worst things that could happen during the season.
“The loss of Kim was really a significant setback [for us]. She is not a player that we can replace with anybody near her level. Losing to Princeton without Kim shows that with her in the lineup the chances of [us] winning would be very high,” head coach Dave Talbott said. “With everyone moving down a spot, we are confident we would have won that match.”
In front of cheering fans in a capacity-filled Brady Squash Center on Saturday, Yale was upended by the top-ranked Tigers in what proved to be a thrilling matchup.
While the Bulldogs lost 5–4, the close score reflects a hotly contested match. Yale steadfastly won the first two matches, including a victory by Shihui Mao ’15 at the third position in five furious games. Losing the first game 11–4, Mao took the court in the second with a renewed focus and precision in her play, leading to an 11–5 win. In a seesaw battle, Princeton’s Nicole Bunyan took the third game and Mao responded to take the fourth. The match came down to the wire in the fifth and final game, where the impressive Mao dominated with composure and guile. After a few personal errors, her opponent crept back into the game with a score of 9–9. Mao produced the crucial match winner (12–10) off of a shot with difficult placement in the backcourt and gave Yale its first victory of the day.
“Mentally, I usually just remind myself that I have already trained so hard and I owe it to the team and myself to play my best in the match — that meant going after every ball and playing smart,” Mao said.
The lead extended to 2–0 with the strong play of Issey Norman-Ross ’15 at No. 6 with a four-game win. After a slow start, Norman-Ross gained momentum with her agility and technique.
Quick crosscourt switches, combined with her ability to always return to central court, led to wins in both the first and second games. Norman-Ross dropped the third game, 11–5, but swiftly recovered in the fourth to eventually win 11–8 and take the match.
Despite 2–0 lead, the light at the end of the tunnel darkened as the Tigers would not back down. Princeton fought back with three wins at the No. 9 spot against Georgia Blatchford ’16, No. 2 spot against captain Katie Ballaine ’13 and No. 5 spot against Gwen Tilghman ’14.
With Princeton now up 3–2 in the second round of play, Annie Ballaine ’16 came through for the Elis at the eighth position with a hard-fought four-game win to bring it even. Relentless play by the Tigers led to Yale’s losses in the fourth and seventh spots. Anna Harrison ’15 at No. 7 and Lilly Fast ’14 at No. 4 valiantly pushed back, but were taken down in straight matches, securing Princeton’s win with a score of 5–3.
Breathing life into the Bulldogs, No. 2 Millie Tomlinson ’14 played for pride and emerged with a decisive three-game win in the first position. The crowd roared as their home team continued to dig deep, but to no avail. With a 5–4 win, Princeton emerged victorious and took control of the Ivy League race. The sting of Yale’s loss will be fresh as Princeton returns in two weeks to the Brady Squash Center for the 2013 Howe Cup national team championships.
Pressing on the very next day, the Bulldogs faced the Quakers in a match focused on national ranking.
Penn dominated the day. The only wins for Yale were at spots five and one with Tilghman and Tomlinson, respectively. With Penn up 4–0, Tilghman picked up the pace, scrambled the full length of the court and convincingly pulled off a three-game win to keep the Bulldogs in the match and make the score 4–1.
The Quakers capitalized in subsequent matches at spots seven and four, capturing the win by hitting the five-point mark. It was only Tomlinson, who won the last contest of the day in a relentless four-game battle, improving her individual season record to 6–1.
At No. 2, Ballaine fiercely rallied for five tough games and created a presence on the court through her attacking precision, instinct and power. It came down to the fifth and final match, where the determination in both players was tangible. Ultimately, even though Ballaine lost 14–12, her play served as a model for her teammates of Bulldog passion and pride.
“She pressed her opponents in both matches, losing in a tight three to Princeton and in a very tight five to Penn against players much higher ranked than her. [She has] shown the other players that we can step up and still contend against the top teams without Kim,” Talbott said. “[Katie] Ballaine has been an outstanding captain all year and has not let the team get down about or discouraged by her [Hay’s] injury.”
Despite the losses this weekend and the Ivy League title out of reach, the Elis still have an opportunity to win the national championship. With two weeks and three more Ivy opponents, including Harvard, to use as preparation, the women are more focused and determined than ever.
Ivy League play continues for the Bulldogs this Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 6 p.m. against Brown at the Brady Squash Center.