Head coach David Talbott waited 26 years, seven days, four hours and, at the very end, three consecutive replayed match points for his Yale men’s squash team to win another national championship. It was only fitting that the wait ended, just as it started over a quarter century ago, in front of a packed home crowd.
With a trio of wins this weekend at the Brady Squash Center, the No. 2 Yale men’s squash team (15–2, 7–0 Ivy) won the CSA National Tournament, claiming the 16th national title in program history, the third in Talbott’s 34-year tenure and the first since 1990. A 5–4 victory over No. 4 Rochester — clinched by a gutsy 3–1 win from Kah Wah Cheong ’17 in the No. 4 match — cued Eli players to rush onto the court Sunday evening amid roars of celebration.
“It’s been 26 years since we’ve been able to win a national championship. It puts us back on top where we belong,” captain Sam Fenwick ’16 said Sunday. “[Being national champion] really hasn’t sunk in yet. Hopefully at some point today it’ll hit me, but I’m just speechless right now and it’s a great moment for Yale squash.”
Yale’s presence in the tournament’s final round was not particularly surprising, as the Bulldogs were favored to win their first two matches of the tournament. Yale won both of those by the same scores that it had beaten those opponents earlier in the year: an 8–1 win over No. 7 Dartmouth in the first round, and a 6–3 win over No. 3 St. Lawrence in the semifinal.
The surprise, though, came on the other side of the bracket. The expectation was that the Bulldogs would play No. 1 Trinity, which had been in the national tournament’s final game the previous 19 seasons and won the title every season between 1999 and 2011. Rochester, however, pulled off an impressive 5–4 upset, recording the school’s second-ever win against Trinity and setting the Yellowjackets up for their first-ever finals appearance.
Despite a lower ranking than Yale, Rochester still posed a major threat, having defeated the Bulldogs 5–4 earlier in the season. The match on Sunday began exactly the same way as that Jan. 17 contest in New York, with Yale winning at No. 5, 6, 8 and 9 but falling at No. 2 and 7 in the first two rounds of play.
No. 8 Liam McClintock ’17 and No. 6 Max Martin ’18 both won in four games, while No. 9 Arjun Kochhar ’18 won in three. No. 5 Thomas Kingshott ’18 collected an 11–9 score in the fifth game of his match, which saw three games go to narrow 11–8 margins.
The 4–2 score after two rounds meant that Yale needed just one win out of the final three matches to earn the national title. The Bulldogs felt the Yellowjackets’ sting in the No. 1 and 7 matches with a pair of quick three-game losses. The tied score made the No. 4 face-off between Yale’s Cheong and Rochester’s Tomotaka Endo the deciding match.
All attention thus turned toward the last matchup, a situation Cheong had already faced during the previous Yale-Rochester match. In that contest, despite a 2–1 lead, Cheong fell in the fifth to Endo, who clinched the match for Rochester. This time, however, the outcome would be reversed.
“Having lost my match and knowing the match was on the line it was extremely tense but also exciting,” Pierson Broadwater ’18 said. “It’s really a testament to our team that all of us were able to watch and have complete faith in Kah Wah knowing that he was able to handle it.”
Cheong and Endo traded 11–9 scores in their first two games, and Cheong came back from a 10–7 deficit to collect a hard-fought 15–13 win in the third. With hundreds of fans cheering him on and a national title on his racket’s strings, Cheong displayed nerves of iron.
He went up 10–8 in the fourth game, and although Endo prolonged the match with three lets on match balls, he ultimately was unable to return a forehand volley from the Bulldog that won the national title.
“I knew that the biggest thing out there was to keep my mental toughness,” Cheong said. “I knew that the one who will win the match will be the one who keeps his cool in spite of the crowd, in spite of the referee’s decisions and just work at it one point at a time. I was telling myself, ‘Just come on Kah Wah, just work one-by-one and keep working until the end.’”
Talbott compared the energy of that final match to the famed 2012 Yale victory over Trinity, which ended a 252-match, 13-year Bantam winning streak.
“It was really about [Cheong],” Talbott said. “He snapped his Achilles at the beginning of the season last year, and he’s worked so hard. He’s so dedicated and one of the biggest team players we have — that’s all he cares about, he has no individual goals. All of us thought it could go down to 4–4 with him on the court, because that’s what happened up at Rochester a month ago.”
In the women’s national tournament, No. 5 Yale fell 7–2 to No. 4 Trinity in the first round but won the next two consolation matches. The Bulldogs finished fifth overall, matching their seeding with the result.
The CSA Individual Championships begin on March 4 at Dartmouth.