Surreal was an understatement. The Ivy League trophy had sat on a table next to the main exhibition court during all of yesterday’s match, looking quite at home in the Brady Squash Center. It was just brought out from the trophy case upstairs yesterday afternoon as a formality, meant to return back behind the glass moments after the Bulldogs squashed Harvard. But by midnight, it was on a most unexpected bus ride back to Massachusetts, covered in enemy fingerprints that signalled the end of an era.
The No. 2 Harvard women (7-1, 6-0 Ivy) shattered the dreams — and the winning streak that dated back to Dec. 3, 2003 – of the No. 1 Yale women’s squash program (11-1, 5-1) with a heartbreaking 5-4 win at Payne Whitney last night. The incredible run, sparked in large part by the arrival of Michelle Quibell ’06 in 2002, ironically ended when Quibell fell to Harvard freshman phenom Lily Lorentzen in a grueling 3-2 finale. With the loss, the Elis yield the Ivy title to the Crimson, but have a chance to redeem themselves in the Howe Cup in Boston this weekend.
Yale head coach Dave Talbott said he never expected to finish the night empty handed, with both his men and women losing grueling affairs.
“I never thought we would drop both of these tonight,” Talbott said. “Harvard played really well though, and the women had their game of the season. They were surprising at five and six especially, and you have got to tip your cap to them.”
Talbott expected the match to be close, and an early 2-2 tally backed up his early assumptions. Sarah Barenbaum ’08 fell at No. 7, but Jess Balderson ’09 at No. 9 and Catherine McLeod ’07 at No. 3 both put down their Cantab foes, 3-1, nudging the Elis one win away from the title.
The storybook ending seemed primed when Quibell stepped onto the Nicholas Brady Court for the final time in Bulldog blue. After a rousing comeback in her first game, she had a packed house hollering with delight at her every move. But Lorentzen seemed to perfect the act of procuring a “let” call, yelling “please” and shooting a puppy-dog face to the crowd after every remotely questionable call. The stop-and-go pace seemed to throw Quibell off in the second game, but she bounced back to go up 2-1 in the third. But once the fourth rolled around, she seemed out of gas, and would need a powerful finish to knock off the peppy freshman in the fifth.
Quibell went down 7-5, but fueled by the crowd in her last New Haven appearance, burst back to 7-7. But after two quick points, the match, the streak and the reign were history.
“They’re all devastated, especially Michelle,” Talbott said. “It wasn’t fair to have it all fall on her shoulders. She’s been fluish all week, and coupled with Miranda [Ranieri ’08] out earlier with a hamstring injury, we were pretty hurt at one and two. If we were at 100 percent, it may have been different.”
Harvard assistant coach Renato Paiva credited Lorentzen with Harvard’s success.
“With Lily this year, everyone gets pushed up,” he said. “We think we have a shot at Yale every year, but we are especially strong this year, and it means a lot for Harvard to come in and take two on Yale’s court on the same night.”
Harvard’s Emily Stork said cautious confidence has been the key to her team’s championship season.
“No one was too worried nor intimidated, we spent the whole season taking it one game at a time,” she said. “All we knew coming down here after looking at the lineups was that it was going to be close.”
The Crimson go undefeated in the Ivies for the first time in three years, but still have a loss to non-league Trinity, a team Yale beat in January. Thus, Talbott says bragging rights are still up for grabs when the Elis head to the Howe Cup this weekend to face familiar Ivy foes and Trinity.
“Whoever wins the Howe has the right to say they’re the best team in 2006,” Talbott said.