The No. 4 Yale men’s squash team kept its hopes of an Ivy League championship alive this weekend with a pair of wins over No. 13 Princeton and No. 2 Penn, while the No. 4 Eli women collected their first conferences losses against two higher-ranked opponents.
Backed by a slew of wins throughout the middle of the ladder, the Yale men (10–2, 5–0 Ivy) topped Princeton (3–9, 1–4) 7–2 on Friday, and then Penn (9–3, 3–2) by a narrower 6–3 margin the following day. The women (10–3, 3–2) did not fare as well, suffering respective 7–2 and 9–0 losses to No. 3 Princeton (8–2, 3–2) and No. 2 Penn (10–1, 4–1).
By improving to 5–0 in the Ancient Eight, the Yale men’s team has positioned itself well to claim an Ivy title next weekend when its plays No. 5 Dartmouth and No. 7 Harvard. A single win would secure at least a share of the championship for the Bulldogs, and a pair of wins would guarantee them the trophy.
“These wins have inspired the men to push hard to the finish line so that we can win not only the Ivy, but hopefully a National Championship title too,” associate head coach Pam Saunders said.
The men’s match against Princeton demonstrated the depth of Yale’s roster, as the Elis’ only losses came at the No. 1 and 9 positions. Of the Bulldogs’ seven wins, all but one came in three games, and the two matches the Bulldogs dropped were among the closest of the day: Playing at the No. 9 position, Pehlaaj Bajwa ’16 fell in the fifth game after failing to capitalize on a 2–1 lead, while No. 1 Zac Leman ’16 suffered a trio of 15–13 scores. The loss was Princeton’s eighth in a row, though the team has been playing top competition.
Following a short drive to Philadelphia and a night’s rest, Yale collected wins against the Quakers at the No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9 positions. Both No. 2 TJ Dembinski ’17 and No. 4 Kah Wah Cheong ’17 rallied from 2–1 deficits to collect wins in their fifth games. Dembinski’s comeback secured the win for Yale, and Cheong’s victory was the Bulldogs’ sixth of the day.
“I thought that my match was going to be the decider — luckily Kah Wah also made a similar come back — but I just kept telling myself that if I stuck to my game plan I’d win, so that’s what I did,” said Dembinski. “Overall the team fought heroically.”
Saunders described the women’s loss to Princeton as “disappointing,” and several players felt that the match was closer than the 7–2 score indicated.
Princeton boasts two of the top players in collegiate women’s squash in Olivia Fletcher and Maria Elena Ubina, who finished last season ranked third and fourth in the nation, respectively. Yale No. 1 Jenny Scherl ’17 took Fletcher to four games, while No. 2 Celine Yeap ’19 lasted five games.
No. 3 Shiyuan Mao ’17 and No. 5 Georgia Blatchford ’16 collected the lone wins for Yale, with Mao winning in four games and Blatchford outlasting her opponent in five.
“It was a high-intensity match, but my strategy to keep the ball straight worked out,” said Blatchford. “As a team we were expecting the overall match to be a little bit closer. Many of the matches went to extra games.”
Blatchford added that the team was expecting an uphill battle the next day against Penn, whose sole loss of the season came in a narrow 6–3 match against No. 1 Harvard. Earlier in the season, Penn had beat Princeton 8–1.
Playing two matches back-to-back is a challenge in itself, but Princeton’s courts, which have plaster back walls, gave the Tigers an additional home-court advantage, Blatchford and Saunders said.
“It has been an incredible season and both teams have played some magnificent squash to date,” said Saunders. “In my time at Yale we have never had two teams make such progress in a year, and credit must also go to [team psychology coach] Bob Mallimson, who has helped our players with their mental games this year.”
The Yale men and women now prepare for their next match this Friday at Dartmouth, where they will begin play at 4 p.m.