Last weekend, the men’s squash team learned two things have not changed since last season.
First, Yale will again be one of the Ivy League’s top teams. And second, the Bulldogs’ primary obstacle to the title will be Princeton.
In the preseason Ivy Scrimmage at Yale’s Brady Squash Center, the Bulldogs soundly defeated Brown 9-0 and Harvard 7-2 before losing 5-4 to the Tigers in the final round. Last year, Yale finished second in the Ivy League to Princeton after defeating Harvard in a dual match for the first time in 12 years.
Despite the Princeton loss, captain Ziad Haider ’03 said the weekend’s results were promising for the upcoming season.
“The gap is definitely closing — and we feel this season is the one when we’ll finally break through,” Haider said.
If the Bulldogs, ranked fourth nationally in the College Squash Association’s preseason rankings, succeed in wresting the Ivy League crown from Princeton, it likely will be because of two freshmen at the top of the Eli lineup.
Haider said the addition of Julian Illingworth ’06 and Avner Geva ’06 will allow the team to be competitive at every spot in its nine-man roster.
“Traditionally, we haven’t been very strong up top,” Haider said. “We usually win down low, in the bottom five. It was really encouraging to establish a presence up top.”
While Geva sat out the Ivy Scrimmage with an ailing back, Illingworth — who finished second in the U.S. Professional championship early this year — showed why he is one of the nation’s top players with a decisive 3-0 victory against Harvard’s No. 1 player, James Bullock.
But in the final round, Illingworth lost to internationally ranked Princeton freshman Yasser el-Halaby, 6-9, 0-9, 9-1, 9-1, 9-6, despite building an early two-game lead.
Princeton won matches in the top five spots in the final round, while Trevor Rees ’06, Alex Ende ’04, Chris Wyant ’05 and Albert McCrery ’04 earned Bulldog victories at the bottom of the lineup.
Gavin Cumberbatch ’05, who lost in the fourth spot against Princeton, said the Bulldogs were pleased by their performance despite the loss.
“We’re definitely stronger than last year. Yale’s strength has always been in its depth,” Cumberbatch said. “Now, we have a legitimate chance of taking a game at the top.”
Coach David Talbott said he is excited by the prospects of his team with Illingworth in the No. 1 slot.
“He’s an exceptional kid — clearly the best player I’ve ever recruited,” Talbott said.
Talbott cited Illingworth’s recent victory over individual collegiate champion Bernardo Samper of Trinity College in the Price-Bullington Invitational as an example of the freshman’s potential for dominance. Illingworth is also the reigning 19-and-under U.S. national champion.
Talbott also said he was impressed by the Bulldogs’ performance considering that three of the team’s top six players — Geva, Aftab Mathur ’03, and Ryan Byrnes ’04 — were out with injuries.
“We expect nothing less than to win the Ivies and get a national championship,” Talbott said. “This weekend showed that we’re a team to beat in the Ivies.”
The Bulldogs will begin Ivy League play at home against the University of Pennsylvania on Dec. 7.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”19691″ ]