Courtesy of Yale Athletics
It was only fitting that the No. 2 Yale men’s squash team secured sole possession of its first Ivy League championship since 2011 by defeating the team that has laid claim to the title for the past three years — especially when that opponent also happened to be the Bulldogs’ archrival.
Yale (12–2, 7–0 Ivy) finished off its third perfect conference weekend on Sunday with a 6–3 win over No. 6. Harvard at home, following a straightforward 8–1 victory at No. 7 Dartmouth the Friday before. The win over the Big Green earned Yale at least a share of the Ivy title, but the Elis would not ease up until they bested the Crimson for the first time in four years, shutting Harvard out of a shared title.
“This is a huge moment for us as a team,” captain Sam Fenwick ’16 said. “This is four years in the making and this Ivy championship belongs to a lot more people than just this current team. That said, this has been a phenomenal season for us, but we are not done yet. The Yale squash program is such a huge part of our lives and it’s nice to give back to the coaches and alumni who have got us here and supported us all the way.”
On Friday, Yale stymied Dartmouth (9–4, 4–3) with its depth, with the Bulldogs winning at the No. 2 through No. 9 spots, and seven of those eight wins coming in just three games. Two days later, that depth again proved too much for Harvard (5–5, 5–2) to contain, as Eli wins came from the No. 6 through No. 9 spots, as well as at No. 2 and No. 4.
The most dramatic moment of the match came at the No. 3 position, between Fenwick and Harvard opponent Bryan Koh on the Brady Squash Center’s main spectator court. At least two hours into the match, Fenwick found himself down 11–10 in the sudden-death fifth game. Fenwick made a diving play for the match ball, but a severe hamstring cramp left the Welshman lying on the court in pain in front of a silent crowd.
Associate head coach Pam Saunders said Fenwick’s match was one of the longest she has seen at Yale, and despite losing he set “a huge precedent showing that we were not going down without a fight.” Despite the alarming scene, Fenwick should be cleared to return well before the CSA National Championship tournament on Feb. 26.
No. 2 TJ Dembinski ’17 stepped onto the court next to play in another match that ended in dramatic fashion. After losing his first game 11–5, Dembinski found himself on the wrong side of a 9–3 score while Yale led Harvard overall 4–2. A single win was all the Bulldogs needed to clinch both the match and sole possession of the Ivy title, and Dembinski delivered.
Despite the shaky start, Dembinski won the second game 12–10, the third 11–6 and the fourth 11–3 to bring the audience in the Brady Squash Center to roars of celebration.
“In the second game, I just told myself I had to return to the basics in order to get back into the match,” Dembinski said. “Once I started to do that, things began to click and that enabled the turnaround. I was pretty excited after winning. This is only the eighth Ivy title in Yale [men’s] squash history and it’s pretty special to be a part of that. Beating Harvard at home is obviously very gratifying, especially for the Ivy.”
Last year the Bulldogs lost No. 4 Kah Wah Cheong ’17 and No. 1 Zac Leman ’16 to season-ending injuries early on. Their return to play this season, which added much-needed depth at the top of the ladder, was certainly instrumental to the Bulldogs’ success this season, as demonstrated by their improvement from last year’s record of 11–6, 5–2 Ivy.
The win was also Yale’s first regular-season win against Harvard since February 2012. Harvard was the sole Ivy champion for the past two seasons, and shared the title with Princeton in 2012–13.
“Everyone went into the season knowing that we had a chance at the title, and it was great to see everyone buy into the campaign so thoroughly,” No. 7 Pierson Broadwater ’18 said. “But our job isn’t done yet. We’re back to the drawing board in just a few days to start preparing for Nationals.”
Meanwhile, the Yale women’s team (11–4, 4–3) opened play this weekend with a 9–0 rout over No. 11 Dartmouth (4–9, 0-–6), but later that weekend fell by the same margin to undefeated No. 1 Harvard (10–0, 7–0), a team Saunders said she believes “will certainly win the national championship.”
Saunders also said she was proud of the women’s level of play all season, and hopes the young team has gained enough experience to make the semifinal round of the CSA National Championship semifinals.
The men and women will use the next two weeks to prepare for Nationals, which will be held at Yale’s Brady Squash Center this year. Play begins on Feb. 26.