The men’s squash team of 2006-’07 has a very different look and feel than in years past, especially after losing Julian Illingworth ’06, arguably the best American-born collegiate squash player of all time.

But its goal is the same as always: Win the Ivy League championship, a feat the Elis accomplished last March for the first time since 1990. Many pundits believe an outright Ancient Eight crown is fully attainable for the Elis, though the conference will offer strong competition throughout the season, as was evidenced at the Ivy League scrimmages two weeks ago when Harvard took first ahead of Princeton and Yale.

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Head coach Dave Talbott enters his 24th season at the helm and will lead a group that is perhaps even deeper than last year’s cast.

“We have good competition up and down the ladder,” Max Samuel ’08 said. “We’re really deep as a team, and our freshmen have stepped up, worked hard and been big parts of the lineup.”

Francis Johnson ’09 said he believes the team has improved in the middle of the order, especially in comparison to the top-heavy lineups typical of previous seasons.

No top was stronger than last season when Illingworth, who has since turned professional and is currently ranked as the top player in the U.S. for men’s squash, led the Bulldogs to a share of the Ivy League championship. He, along with fellow graduates Avner Geva ’06, Trevor Rees ’06 and Andrew Vinci ’06, will be sorely missed, but the team believes that this year all 12 players in the lineup can compete and be successful.

“We’re constantly pushing each other,” Johnson said. “We’re very close as a team, and this is really as much of a team effort as an individual sport can be.”

Moshe Sarfaty ’08 said that although the team has only been together for a couple of months, it is already very united, and he is happy with what he has seen so far this season.

The team is not without its flaws, and it was able to pinpoint some weaknesses at the Ivy League scrimmages.

“Our fitness has to improve,” Samuel said. “We have to focus on really grinding it out and forcing our opponents to make mistakes before we do.”

Patience will be key for the Bulldogs in the 2006-’07 campaign, and the team knows it must remain on an even keel in what will inevitably be several close contests this year — namely the Trinity, Princeton and Harvard matchups in January and February.

The Bulldogs will open up the regular season against Penn on Dec. 2. It is Yale’s only match before the winter recess, but the team understands that it cannot overlook the Quakers, who will come to New Haven sporting a lineup infused with an extremely talented freshman class — one that squash publications have been buzzing about recently.

“[Penn] is pretty hyped up,” Samuel said. “We really need to set a tone for the rest of the season by beating them badly.”

The Bulldogs downed the Quakers, 6-3, in the scrimmage on Nov. 4, but the Elis remain cognizant of last year’s close call in Philadelphia, where they had to rally to top underdog Penn, 5-4. The team will have the luxury of home court advantage in its opener, something the Elis hope will play a factor all season, much as it has done in previous years.

“We’re really having fun out there, and I think everyone else who comes out will have fun too,” Sarfaty said.

The season will be truly entertaining if the men can reproduce last year’s successes and perhaps even exceed them by winning the Ancient Eight alone or by upsetting a team like Trinity, currently ranked No. 1 in the United States. Either way, fans should expect hard-fought matches on every court and the opportunity to watch a nationally competitive Yale squad. This winter should be a good one for the men of the Brady Squash Center.