In 1990, the last time the Elis won an Ancient Eight title, most of the Yale men’s squash team was entering preschool or kindergarten. Like everyone, they probably learned many golden lessons there, but perhaps the toughest was to learn how to share.
Sixteen years later, it still is not that easy.
The No. 3 Bulldogs (11-2, 5-1 Ivy) buckled to No. 4 Harvard (6-2, 5-1) in their Payne Whitney finale last night, falling 6-3 in a meet they needed to nail down to secure an outright Ivy title. Bittersweet was the word on everyone’s tongue when Yale captain Julian Illingworth ’06 and Harvard captain Will Broadbent hoisted the championship hardware, each with one hand grasping a leg of the trophy.
With the Crimson victory, there is a three-way tie for the Ivy title for the first time since 1989. Harvard, Princeton and Yale, the same threesome as in the last instance, will all have their names etched on the base of the trophy. Yale’s Big Three counterparts dominated through the 1990s — one has to look pretty far down the chronological list of champions to find Yale’s last appearance in 1990.
The conflicted mood in the Brady Squash Center was obvious in the faces of the Elis, who cracked brief smiles and doled out hugs while their Harvard counterparts, having salvaged a slice of the title, were a bit more jovial.
“Of course, we’re pretty disappointed right now,” Ethan Oetter ’09 said. “But we’ll realize pretty soon that we have quite a lot to celebrate. Talk to people in 10 years, talk to people in 10 minutes, and people will forget the ‘co’ from ‘co-champions’.”
The match kicked off in the pall of the women’s team’s stunning defeat, with an awkward quiet still dominating the venue. The newly-crowned Ivy women’s champion Crimson surrounded the main court during introductions, and with raucous cheerleading, they kicked off an affair marked by an unusually high level of antipathy between Harvard and Yale fans and players.
The highlights of the early stretch were inspiring final performances from seniors Avner Geva ’06 at No. 6 and Trevor Rees ’06 at No. 9. Rees was unusually riled up in a 3-0 dismantling of Todd Ostrow, and Geva battled Cantab Chasson Gertler out to a 2-1 lead before leaving a definitive final image by sweeping his foe in the deciding game.
“I beat the guy 9-0 in the last set, and that’s a pretty fun way to go out,” Geva said.
With wins from Geva, Rees and freshman standout Francis Johnson ’09, the Bulldogs took a 3-2 lead, but the tables began to turn.
In an undeniably ugly match both on the court and off, Moshe Sarfaty ’08 allowed a 2-0 lead at No. 4 to slip away to Jason De Lierre. Sarfaty and De Lierre played an overwhelmingly physical, sometimes violent game, which reached a low point when De Lierre fell on his back after a collision and refused to allow Sarfaty to help him up. Yale hecklers caused several stoppages in the match, and shouting matches between vulgar Yale students on the balcony and the Harvard women sitting behind the court needed to be broken up by coaches.
Rounding out the seniors, Andrew Vinci ’06 took his opponent deep in the second set, but lost 10-9 en route to a 3-0 defeat. Illingworth was steamrolled by Harvard’s Siddharth Suchde at the No. 1 spot, but left to an ovation after his final home match. Yale head coach Dave Talbott said Illingworth suffered an injury in Monday’s practice.
“He played with a ton of heart,” Talbott said. “He did as much as he could after he got hurt.”
With the loss, the score tilted towards Harvard’s way at 4-3. Ho Ming Chiu ’08 and Max Samuel ’08 were still on the courts, but it was soon apparent that Chiu was no match for Harvard’s Ilan Oren. With a Chiu swing and miss on an 8-3 rally in the deciding game, the Crimson bench erupted in cheers.
2006 team play is over for the Bulldogs. But the CSA singles tournament, where Illingworth will get a final go at Suchde and — more importantly — Princeton’s Yasser El-Halaby, is still on the docket. In the meantime, the Elis are going to take some time to reflect.
“What can I say? I’m still not the happiest guy in the world right now,” Geva said. “But give me 30 minutes, and I’ll be more than OK.”