The Trinity game. It is the centerpiece, the focus, the fixation of both of Dave Talbott’s undefeated squash squads and has been since practices started months ago on the fourth-floor courts of Payne Whitney. Now, the measuring-stick match is just six days away.
But Wednesday’s clash against the nationally acclaimed Bantams is not next on the agenda for either the Eli men or women. There is squash to be played this weekend when the Big Red dip in from Ithaca for a Saturday morning tussle with the Bulldogs — a match that some players easily dismiss as a warmup while others fear as a trap.
After an exhausting three-week stretch that included a trip halfway around the world, a grueling double meet, and a mere single day of rest, the Bulldogs were back into some semblance of a normal schedule Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re reasonably well rested,” men’s captain Julian Illingworth ’06 said. “Today we’re taking it a little bit easy, lifting, and we’ll be pretty well off for the weekend.”
The pack of players discussing the upcoming match with Cornell on their way from the courts to the varsity weight room expressed confidence mixed with a healthy dose of caution.
On the men’s side (3-0, 2-0 Ivy), an early season scare has ensured that the Bulldogs will not take any team lightly. The heavily favored Eli men nearly dropped their season opener against the Quakers — a team they defeated 8-1 in 2004. Talbott billed the Penn matchup as comparable to the visitors this weekend.
“Cornell could be a threat,” Billy Hatch ’09 said. “After Penn, we’re not going to overlook anyone, whether it’s Trinity or Cornell.”
Furthermore, the fledgling Big Red (1-4, 0-3 Ivy) made shockwaves in the squash world last year when they knocked off No. 3 Princeton, and may only be getting better under the guidance of a new coaching staff.
Despite such reservations, Illingworth was confident in his team’s ability to make quick work of the Ivy League’s westernmost entries.
“This weekend is a great opportunity for us to sharpen our game,” he said. “The scare at Penn will end up being a good thing, but we don’t want a 6-3 or 7-2 match against Cornell. We want to come out of this at 9-0.”
The story is a little different for the women (4-0, 2-0). Boasting a winning streak that spans three years, the team is unlikely to take their bottom-dwelling opponents seriously.
“The fact is, [the women] haven’t lost a match for two years,” Talbott said. “We just want to sustain this level of success.”
The Elis’ last defeat, in 2003, has become more and more distant, and the 2006 incarnation of Cornell (1-3, 0-3) hardly looks like a team that could make history this weekend. The Big Red could not muster a single game in Ithaca last year, and are the only Ivy team not in the top competitive division of women’s squash. On top of all that, they are winless in three Ancient Eight matches in their woeful campaign thus far.
Still, with the women’s ranks slightly depleted from graduation last year, Yale team members acknowledge that they may not be as bulletproof in 2006.
“We’re not as solid, definitely not as invincible as last year,” Sarah Barenbaum ’08 said. “We’re in good shape against Cornell, but against Trinity, Princeton and Harvard, it’s really anyone’s year. Half of the team thinks Princeton will be the big game, some think Harvard, and some think Trinity. There’s just no way to know.”
In the backloaded schedules both squads face this year, Saturday morning may be the last respite the Bulldogs will enjoy before the storm. After the Bantams next week, Princeton is just a few days later, with Harvard right around the corner. Though this weekend may turn out to be practice for the Elis, it’s just a matter of days before the parade of powerhouses begins.
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