The nonchalant fanfare could barely match that of a weekday practice. The coaching staff left their Sunday best, last donned for this past weekend’s headliner match against Princeton, in the closet. With hardly a peep and not the slightest of pomp, men’s squash took care of Amherst, and all was well and calm at the Brady Squash Center.
Perhaps the only challenge of the night was trying to find a player who would not mention Harvard — and the historic title-deciding grudge match looming just 13 days away.
The Bulldogs (11-1, 4-0 Ivy), trotting out four freshmen in their starting nine, easily bulldozed the Lord Jeffs (6-8) in a 9-0 final. Yet the relaxed weeknight affair was less a match of storied New England rivals than an extension of a grueling practice for a team that only has two weeks remaining on the schedule. Above all else, the purpose of the night was for both starters and reserves to hone their skills in anticipation of the Feb. 22 battle against the Cantabs, which could stand as the biggest match in years for men’s squash.
“What you don’t see is that before the match, we had a really hard session here,” Ethan Oetter ’09 said. “We’re focused on Harvard, we only have 15 days of squash left, and we’re going to go all-out.”
Despite the Elis’ extended travails yesterday afternoon, the squad only dropped three games on the night. A handful of the usual starting nine got the night off, and the Yale bench had the chance to show it was still more capable than the best Amherst had to offer.
Captain Julian Illingworth ’06 was rested for only the second time this season, allowing Nick Chirls ’07 to settle in at the No. 1 spot. Chirls led the charge for the home squad, pummeling a visibly hapless and frustrated Drew Blacker in front of a paltry crowd. Four spots below, Francis Johnson ’09 — who has made a name for himself with nerve-wracking five-set finishes — rose up from his usual digs at No. 9 to take up residence in the No. 5 spot, and had an unusually uneventful match against Gautam Kalani. Reserves rounded out the lineup, and James Rector ’07, Colin Campbell ’09, Billy Hatch ’09 and Oetter only dropped a single game among them.
“A few people dropped games, but more than anything that has to do with the practice this afternoon,” Oetter said.
Associate head coach Gareth Webber saw last night’s match as an opportunity for his squad to fine-tune various elements of their play.
“Before we get to Harvard, we want to spend time focusing on certain aspects of the game,” he said. “Even if the opponent isn’t up to par and the players aren’t pushed, this is the time to work on specifics.”
The Elis have a straightforward task in front of them. A victory against Harvard at Payne Whitney will give the Elis their first Ancient Eight title in 16 years. But they can clinch a share of the title in a matter of hours. Princeton heads to Boston to play the Cantabs Sunday, and a Tiger victory ensures Yale at least a tie for the crown. Furthermore, the CSA Tournament kicks off a week from tomorrow, and the Bulldogs will get another chance to avenge their lone defeat against Trinity.
Brown is next on the docket Saturday in the Ocean State. Head coach Dave Talbott will have his team back in full swing for the interleague affair.
“We’re loading back up the troops,” he said. “You’ll see the whole shebang up in Providence this weekend.”
In the meantime, the Elis hope to get themselves in the best fighting form possible.
“Out motto is to build on it, every day build on what we have,” Webber said. “Whatever we do, we’re only as good as our last game.”