Further cementing its reputation as the pre-eminent team in women’s squash, the Eli squad showed its moxie as it found a way to down Harvard to claim both the national and Ivy League titles for the second straight year.
This year’s contest was a collision of two powerhouse teams. The Bulldogs, sporting one of the most formidable squads in women’s squash, have been undefeated the past two seasons and claim the defending individual champion in Michelle Quibell ’06. Harvard (7-1, 5-1 Ivy), while lacking a similar string of dominance, has had a breakout season, beating perennial contender Trinity for the first time since 2001. But it was the Bulldogs (10-0, 6-0) who pulled out the victory at the Barnaby Squash Courts in Cambridge, 5-4, under first-year head coach Dave Talbott.
In spite of the victory, the Bulldogs admitted that the team got a scare from the Cantabs.
“The match was definitely too close for comfort,” captain Frances Ho ’05 said. “But I think that says something about the team.”
Indeed, when the chips were down, the Eli players stepped up their play to secure the match. Playing at No. 4 against the Crimson’s Audrey Duboc, Miranda Ranieri ’08 came back from two games down to win 3-2. It proved to be a crucial win.
“I went into the match really nervous,” Ranieri said. “I felt like I had a lot of pressure on me.”
Part of the reason for that pressure, she said, was that her match was one that the team expected to win. When Duboc came out and won the first game 9-4, Ranieri said she knew she needed to turn up the intensity.
“I think in the middle of the second game I started to turn it around,” she said. “I started feeling more confident and got more points on her.”
Duboc won the second game 10-8, but Ranieri said the turning point in the match came when she was able to tie the game at eight points.
Teammates lauded Ranieri’s determination.
“She’s just a fighter,” said Ho. “She’s a feisty player– — she just kept with it and came up with the win.”
After Ranieri won her match, Ho said, the team felt confident of victory with the No. 1 and No. 2 matches still left to play. Catherine McLeod ’07 would provide the decisive blow for the Elis in her match against Jennifer Blumberg.
“Catherine is very dependable — she’s been undefeated in her college career,” Ho said. “None of us had any doubt that she was going to win.”
McLeod took care of Blumberg quickly after the first game, dispatching her 10-8, 9-0 and 9-2. Once McLeod found her rhythm, she was unstoppable.
Even though Yale had already won, the match between top seeds Quibell and Harvard’s Kyla Grigg proved to be one of the most contested of the day. In a battle of endurance, Grigg took the first game 10-8, only to see Quibell storm back to take the second 9-3. In the third game, Grigg grinded out a 10-9 win and then dropped the fourth 9-2, setting up a decisive fifth game that Grigg outlasted Quibell to win 9-7.
“I think we both got pretty tired in the third game, so by the end it became a game of who could make the least errors,” Quibell said. “You’re never as comfortable when you play in an unfamiliar court.”
That court posed some particularly difficult challenges for the Elis. Because of the high temperature in the Harvard squash center, the ball behaves in a way unique to Barnaby, bouncing slowly off the walls but rapidly off the floor. Because the Crimson are accustomed to this movement, they hold an advantage over most visiting teams.
“Everyone was nervous about playing them at Harvard,” Quibell said.
For the Bulldogs who were on the team in the 2002-2003 season, this match at Harvard was a chance to exact revenge. That year, the Elis beat the Crimson 8-1 in the Howe Cup, only to fall to them 5-4 three days later in the season finale at Cambridge. Yale finished the season 5-1 in Ivy League play, second to Harvard.
Ho, a veteran of that campaign, said this year’s win helped forge the character of the squad.
“I’m really proud of the team,” she said. “Given everything we’ve been through this year with the coaching change, I think winning the title again is really sweet.”