A Tiger may have won the battle, but the Elis won the war.
In front of a packed house, including Princeton (3-1, 2-1) squash alumni, at the Jadwin Gym courts in Princeton, the Elis (8-1, 4-0 Ivy) trounced the orange and black, 6-3. Even more important than knocking off the No. 4 team in the land, the Bulldogs edged one step closer to an Ivy League title that has eluded them since 1990.
The even seeds took the courts first, and the Elis jumped to a quick 3-0 advantage. Josh Schwartz ’05 and Ryan Byrnes ’04 swept their opponents at the two and eight spots respectively. The four-seed match ended shortly afterward with Gavin Cumberbatch ’05 finishing off his challenger 3-1.
“We came out and really dominated,” Yale head coach David Talbott said.
The early momentum was not only conserved, but grew as the second round of matches got underway. While some odd seeds were just getting warmed up, seven-seed Andrew Vinci ’06 was throttling his Princeton counterpart. Vinci quickly had matchpoint in hand before all even seeds had cleared the courts. Simultaneously, Trevor Rees ’06 seemed ready to put away his six-seed match. Rees acquired six match points in the fourth game and three in the fifth, but Princeton’s Will Boothby fought back from the brink of defeat.
Rees fell and Vinci triumphed to set the table for the remaining Elis, who only needed one match for a team victory. Three-seed Anshul Manchanda ’04 unleashed an assault on Princeton freshman Michael Gilman. Combining force with finesse, Manchanda surrendered only two points in a three-game sweep, slamming the door on the Tigers and a bleak chapter of Yale squash history. Manchanda’s clinching win gave Yale its first victory at Princeton in the last 10 years. Nick Chirls ’07 continued his solid play, winning 3-1, pushing the Elis’ win total to six.
Even with the team winner decided, spectators remained crowded around the plaster courts in New Jersey to see what was billed as the top showdown of collegiate squash: nationally ranked No. 1 Yasser El Halaby of Princeton against the Bulldogs’ nationally ranked No. 4 Julian Illingworth ’06.
“When these guys play, it’s almost like professional squash,” Talbott said.
Both men entered the match undefeated and with memories of their meeting last year at Brady Squash Center, when the main court transformed into a pressure cooker as these two battled for five games to decide the match’s team victor. El Halaby prevailed last year, but a stronger, more confident Illingworth liked his chances in a rematch.
The Tiger crowd was instantly rewarded for staying around, as the first game provided 18 points of top-rate squash, with El Halaby winning the fast-paced game, 10-8. Illingworth continued to fight but fell 9-6 in the second game, as El Halaby capitalized on Illingworth’s mental errors.
The slower courts at Princeton made Illingworth’s task more difficult.
“[El Halaby’s] shots are much more effective,” Illingworth said. “I don’t think he’s lost a match at home.”
Illingworth fought hard to stay alive in the third frame but started to tire. El Halaby took the match with a 9-5 performance in the final game.
“Julian had a tight first game,” Talbott said. “Yasser just played great. Julian is clearly one of the top three players in the league, but for college squash [Yasser] is the best.”
Though successfully dethroning last year’s Ivy champs, the Elis have not secured the title for their own. The Bulldogs face Brown (2-5, 0-4) Feb. 7, but their last major challenge before the postseason comes at home in two weeks when No. 3 Harvard (3-1, 3-0) visits Brady. The winner of this match will most likely be the Ivy League Champion.
Talbott plans to use the two-week reprieve to rest his players and focus the team on the next task at hand. One noticeable scratch from the heart of the Elis’ lineup card has been Avner Geva ’06 who reaggravated a back problem from last season. Geva has been on an intense rehabilitation program to be prepared for the Cantabs.