The men’s squash team was one point away from victory over Princeton and a shot at the Ivy League championship, but hundreds of spectators filed from the Brady Squash Center disappointed by a 5-4 loss.
The Elis swept positions No. 6 through No. 9 and Princeton took positions No. 1 through No. 5, escaping with the narrowest of victories.
Up 2-0 with match ball in the third game at position No. 1, Julian Illingworth ’06 could not seal the game; Princeton star Yasser El-Halaby made an unlikely comeback and won the match for the Tigers in front of a packed house.
“It was one of the best college squash matches anyone’s ever going to see,” Yale head coach Dave Talbott said.
Illingworth stormed out to an early lead, taking advantage of and forcing mistakes by El-Halaby.
“Julian [Illingworth] came out so ferociously, played so well, that [he] almost didn’t let Yasser get into the match,” Princeton head coach Bob Callahan said.
The capacity crowd rallied behind Illingworth and with match ball at 8-4 in the third game, it looked like the Bulldogs were on their way to victory.
“It’s always fun to play with such an energized crowd,” Illingworth said.
Callahan was already preparing a speech to give to his team following a loss, he said. But El-Halaby, internationally ranked No. 50 and nationally ranked No. 1, had other plans.
“Definitely midway through the third game he stepped it up another level,” Illingworth said. “I let up for a minute, and he just jumped in the door.”
The Tiger freshman came back to win the third game 10-8, causing a massive shift in momentum.
El-Halaby continued to roll in the fourth game, winning easily, setting the stage for a fifth and final game that would determine the outcome of the entire match.
“I was just thinking that maybe I could just get it out and fight through it,” Illingworth said.
The fifth game went back and forth early on, with both athletes unable to score a point. Illingworth finally broke through with the first point, but the game continued to be close until El-Halaby broke through and ended up winning the match 9-5, sealing a huge victory for the Tigers and a heartbreaking loss for the Elis.
“I can’t say enough about [Illingworth’s] heart,” Talbott said. “Yasser [El-Halaby] is still a little bit more experienced than Julian [Illingworth]. He’s just still a little bit stronger and more economic in his movements.”
The strong quartet of Princeton seniors — Will Evans, David Yik, Dan Rutherford and Eric Pearson — won matches at positions No. 2 through No. 5 to contribute to the victory.
At positions No. 3 and No. 4, Avner Geva ’06 and Josh Schwartz ’05 continued to struggle with injuries, both losing 3-0.
Geva has been out most of the season with a back injury, and Schwartz, who had not played a match in three weeks, dealt with a hamstring injury that limited his mobility.
Schwartz was only playing at 50 percent, Talbott said.
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