If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen — or the squash court as the case may be.
The nationally ranked No. 2 men’s squash team (5-0, 2-0 Ivy) defended its home courts at the Brady Squash Center last weekend, dispatching Stanford (7-6), Denison (5-5), Dartmouth (4-2, 0-1) and Cornell (4-3, 2-3) without giving up one match. After running the table last weekend, the Elis have set up a collision of the nation’s top squash programs when No. 1 Trinity rolls into New Haven today.
The Bulldogs dropped only one game against Stanford. Anshul Manchanda ’04 gave regular number one seed Julian Illingworth ’06 a brief rest Friday, defeating the best the Cardinal had to offer, 3-1. By preserving both Illingworth and two seed Josh Schwartz ’05 against Stanford, the Elis were positioned to dominate No. 17 Denison later in the day. While Denison provided more of a fight than the Cardinal — Illingworth’s match went the full five games — the Elis accrued another 9-0 sweep.
“These kind of matches give everyone a chance to get some matches in,” Yale head coach David Talbott said.
Saturday’s slate was surprisingly barren, as Wesleyan, Colby and Rochester cancelled. However, the Elis did make a statement in their Ivy League opener against No. 8 Dartmouth. Illingworth got redemption for last year’s loss to the Big Green’s one seed Brian Donegan, and the two through 10 slots also prevailed to give the Elis another 9-0 victory. Sunday was more of the same for the Elis. A 9-0 drumming of No. 5 Cornell got the Elis out to a fast 2-0 record in the Ivies, and Illingworth got the best of another number one seed, Matthew Serediak, who defeated him last year.
The Bulldogs cannot revel in their accomplishments for long, as the most difficult match of the season looms large this evening. In a David versus Goliath scenario, Trinity (3-0) brings a 93 match winning streak dating back to 1997, six consecutive national titles, and a stable of internationally touted players to Brady.
“This is like the ‘UConn versus Duke’ of squash,” Talbott said.
Five of the Bantams are among the top 20 players in the nation, including No. 2 Bernardo Samper and No. 3 Michael Ferreira, and nine out of the team’s top 10 seeds were imported from abroad to play squash.
“We knew Trinity was the match we were training had for,” Schwartz said. “It was the one we circled.”
Trinity enters tonight’s matchup coming off a 9-0 victory over Dartmouth Jan. 17. All Trinity players won their matches 3-0.
But Yale has a bevy of talented players as well — Illingworth, the No. 4 player in the nation, and fellow top 20 players Manchanda, Avner Geva ’06 and Schwartz.
When the two squads met last year, Trinity thumped the Bulldogs 8-1. Talbott said his squad was “overmatched.” Illingworth managed to take one game from Samper and push another to 10-8. This year’s Bantams, lacking two seniors from the 2002-2003 squad who have moved on to professional squash, are perhaps more vulnerable.
“When I was a freshman and we went into Trinity, no one thought we could win,” Quincy Fennebresque ’04 said. “They’re no longer so far above us. They are not untouchable.”
Talbott is optimistic about his team’s chances to muster a victory, especially if the matches draw out into four or five games. He has preached the importance of sticking to the game plan and trying to control emotion.
“You don’t have to pump them up for it,” Talbott said. “They know they are playing the number one team and how big this is.”
Talbott plans to take full home court advantage by turning up the thermostats in the Brady Center to “grind down” the Bantams’ endurance and make it a “game of attrition.” He said that the Elis need to keep their matches tight and not try to match their opponents stroke for stroke.
“We have to hang on in the beginning and make fitness the deciding edge,” Fennebresque said. “This is going to be more a marathon than a sprint. It’s tough to hold back, but we’ve been able to maintain a pretty relaxed composure.”
Talbott broke down the possibilities simply: if Yale wins, the team score will be close but if the final score is lopsided, Yale will most likely be on the losing end.
“If my match goes five games, something is going right,” Fennebresque said.
A win tonight would go a long way toward the Elis’ claiming their first national championship since 1990.
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