Last weekend’s Constable Invitational women’s squash championships could not have come at a better time for the Yale team.
Held at Princeton University, the tournament provided a chance for 11 Bulldogs to compete on an individual level. More importantly, it afforded them valuable playing time on Princeton’s notorious cement courts just in time for this weekend’s much-awaited matchup with the Tigers.
“The big thing was that it gave us a lot of experience,” head coach Mark Talbott said. “They got to practice for three days on those courts, which are very different — they’re cement and they play much slower than what we are used to.”
The tournament featured the top women’s collegiate squash players from several different schools and was divided into four divisions, with the top 16 players in college competing in the Constable division.
After that, there were 5.0, 4.0, and 3.0 brackets that maintained an equal playing field for all the participants.
Yale’s lone entrant in the Constable bracket was Frances Ho ’05, who has been the Bulldogs’ No. 1 player this season. Ho had a strong showing, defeating Williams’ Adrienne Ellman in straight sets in the first round, 9-7, 9-6, 9-4. In the quarterfinals, she took Harvard’s No. 1, Louisa Hall, to four sets in a 9-2, 9-1, 5-9, 9-1 loss.
“I think I did better than anyone probably expected, because I got a game off her,” Ho said. “It took awhile to get used to the courts because they’re very different than the ones we have here, but once we got warmed up it was fine.”
National powerhouse Trinity dominated the Constable division, with two Bantams claiming both spots in the championship. Amina Helal defeated Lynn Leong in straight sets in the final.
Yale entered four players, those in the numbers 2-5 slots on the team, into the 5.0 division. Talbott remarked that the four players — Sarah Coleman ’05, Lauren Doline ’05, Gina Wilkinson ’03, and Devon Dalzell ’04 — are very close to one another in skill level.
“They’re basically interchangeable, and they keep beating each other in challenge matches,” he said. “They did well in the tournament.”
All four girls won their first matches, with Wilkinson reaching the quarterfinals after beating both Harvard’s Ella Witcher, 9-1, 9-5, 7-9, 9-1, and Princeton’s Tricia Gadsden, 9-2, 9-2, 9-7.
Abigail McDonough ’04 made it to the semifinals of the 4.0 bracket before being ousted by Harvard’s Virginia Brown, who went on to win the tournament in their division.
Just as two Trinity teammates faced one another in the Constable final, two Bulldogs were pitted against each other in the consolation quarterfinal qualifiers. In that match, Lindsay Schroll ’05 lost to Kate Stands ’02 in four sets by the score of 9-5, 9-1, 6-9, 9-1.
“Everyone gets psyched up for the team matches, and sometimes at these individual tournaments I’ve had teams in the past that don’t try as hard,” Talbott said. “But we’ve got a young team that is very motivated, so I was very pleased with it.”
It was the time spent on Princeton’s courts, however, that was most beneficial to the Elis, who face the Tigers Saturday.
The two teams have been battling back and forth for the third and fourth spots in the Women’s Intercollegiate Squash Association all season behind Trinity and Harvard.
“Now we know what the courts are like and what the temperatures are there,” Ho said. “It was a good experience to go out there and get used to the courts.”
The Princeton game has been circled on the Bulldogs’ calendar all season, largely because the two teams match up so closely. Like Yale, Princeton has an incredibly close roster in the 2-5 slots.
“Basically, we’re in the exact same position as the men’s team because Harvard and Trinity are above us and we’re playing for the No. 3 seeding in the Howe Cup,” Talbott said. “We haven’t beaten them since I’ve been coach, and this is the best shot we’ve had for a long time.”
While Princeton’s unique courts give them a definite home-court advantage, the Tigers have been equally as eager for the match against Yale.
“This is probably the biggest match of the year for us because our teams are so close with each other ability-wise,” said Gadsden, who has been playing in Princeton’s top two positions all season. “Our coach just said today that everything we’ve been working for during the past five months has to pull together this Saturday.”