The men’s squash team shouldn’t hope for Princeton wins this often.
The Bulldogs (12-2, 5-0 Ivy) celebrated Princeton’s (10-2, 5-1) win over Harvard (6-3, 4-1) a week ago that clinched at least a part of the Ivy title for the Elis, their first since 1990. But they could not be so happy with a Princeton win Saturday. This time, they were on the wrong end of a Tigers trouncing at the New Jersey school’s own prowling grounds, despite winning there earlier this season.
Princeton steamrolled over Yale 8-1 to reach the finals of this weekend’s College Squash Association team championships on the way to a 5-4 loss to the continuing Trinity dynasty. But the Bulldogs will have one last shot at redemption this Wednesday. A match that was “only” supposed to decide the bearers of the Ivy crown will now count towards both Ivy supremacy and national recognition; the winner of the match will be No. 3 in the country.
The Harvard match was originally slated for Sunday afternoon. But the Yale and Harvard coaches decided to postpone it until Wednesday’s already-scheduled event.
“At one or two spots, the guys would have wanted to play today,” Yale captain and first seed Julian Illingworth ’06 said. “But predominantly the guys thought it would be easier to store up the energy, emotion and momentum for one match.”
The weekend began well enough with a 9-0 blowout against Williams, no surprise for a Yale team that took the Ephs 8-1 a month before. Princeton won its quarterfinal match as well, bringing down Western Ontario.
Saturday’s semifinal match was scheduled for high noon, a fitting time to begin a repeat of the Feb. 4 showdown that saw the Elis upset Princeton on the road, 5-4. But the four-and-a-half hour long nail-biter two weeks prior did not include Princeton’s finest, the fabled Yasser El Halaby, who was out that week with an injured foot.
El Halaby’s return came in a match with Illingworth that mirrored last season’s CSA individual championship, at least in the match-up and end result. Though Illingworth would ultimately fall, he did so after winning the first game 9-3, a better result than he could muster the year before when he lost to El Halaby in three straight games. Illingworth attributed his loss to not feeling well and to losing focus after the first game, the same ailments that plagued him in last year’s individual title match.
But even superstars cannot carry the day in team championships. Rather, Princeton’s win can be chalked up to a squad that always has been a top contender and was hurting to win against the Eli team that had embarrassed them at home two weeks before.
“There’s an incentive to kick your butt since you’ve already beat them,” Francis Johnson ’09 said. “Every single [Princeton] player was playing his best game. It’s very hard to beat a team like that, fired up, at home.”
But Yale’s own shortcomings played a role too, Eli number two seed Nick Chirls ’07 said.
“People were still a bit complacent after winning against them and we didn’t go in with the same intensity as a few weeks ago,” he said.
Even with some close games, four of the Princeton players blanked their Yale opponents 3-0, and no individual Eli won more than one game except for eighth seed Johnson, who won his match 3-0.
If the Bulldogs win Wednesday’s historic home match, they will hold sole ownership of the Ivy trophy for the first time in sixteen years. Even with a Crimson victory, Yale would be Ivy Champions, though they would share the title with Harvard and Princeton. Although the upcoming match will now count twice, three times if you consider that it is the last home match for the team’s five seniors in the starting nine, Yale’s goal is clear and singular.
“Third or fourth in the country isn’t that important for us,” Chirls said. “The most important thing is winning the Ivies on Wednesday.”