The Brady Squash Center surged with heat and historical momentum Wednesday night as the men’s squash team beat Harvard for the first time in 12 years.
Yale (18-2, 5-1) defeated the Crimson (6-3, 4-2) in six out of the nine matches that determined the match. The Bulldogs head into Nationals as the third best team in the country, trailing only Trinity and Ivy rival Princeton.
The crowd circulated the nine matches, intent on the ball as it caromed off glass or hit tin in less graceful moments.
Yale jumped out to the early lead with a forfeit win at the No. 8 position. But by the time Aftab Mathur ’03 beat Harvard’s Thomas Storch in a graceful sweep, the match ball felt like it had been roasted over flames. Only the numbers made it look easy.
“I lost my concentration a bit in the second game,” Mathur said.
But the bookends of Mathur’s victory were silencing 9-0 shutouts.
Peter Grote ’02 drew out his duel with Harvard No. 2 Dylan Patterson to a five full games. The players rallied long on their feet, with both stringing together points in bulk. In the final games Grote, in pink-rimmed goggles, scattered Patterson all over the court, and finally took control of the match. With his rousing celebratory slam on the glass, Yale surged ahead.
From above and behind, the crowd supported their teams. Fans crammed over the balcony levels of the court to cheer, and bow-tied alumni clapped heartily.
Dean of Yale College and squash fan Richard Brodhead praised the players for the “wonderful combination of endurance and touch” that their game embodied.
Christopher Wyant ’05 and Albert McCrery ’04 swept their opponents in three games. Although he lost his match to Harvard’s Dave Barry, Ryan Byrnes ’04 made the Crimson captain work. Barry took the match in five games.
In a loopy, meditative match that turned fierce at the end, Gavin Cumberbatch ’05 sealed the team victory for Yale. He defeated Harvard’s Asher Hockberg in four games.
“I’d attribute this victory to good coaching,” Cumberbatch said between the high fives and hugs that found him everywhere after the match.
Cumberbatch explained that between games head coach Dave Talbott pulled him aside and pointed out Hockberg’s weakness: he couldn’t get quickly to balls in the back court.
“Knowing his weakness made it just a game of tactics,” Cumberbatch said. “I began extending each play, punishing him by sending balls to the back. I can’t explain how simple it became.”
Josh Schwartz’s ’05 victory after Cumberbatch sealed the match and made Yale’s win that much sweeter.
This is Talbott’s 19th year as head coach of the Yale team, and his team’s first victory over the Crimson since 1990.
Harvard coach Satinder Bajwa expressed disappointment with the loss, but remained composed.
“This new rivalry in squash is great, and I think rivalries should change hands,” Bajwa said. “We’ll come back next year itching to beat Yale.”
The two teams will next return to the courts Feb. 22-24 at the National Intercollegiate Squash Association Team Championships. By virtue of it’s victory Wednesday, the Bulldogs will be seeded third, ahead of the Crimson. Harvard’s biggest worry now is the possibility that a lower standing at Nationals increases the chance that they will play Trinity, the country’s best squash players.