Men’s squash captain Sam Fenwick ’16 was a central part of making Yale history last weekend, guiding the Bulldogs to their first national championship in over a quarter century. The Wales native, who served as No. 3 for the squad this season, will be competing in the College Squash Association Individual Tournament this weekend seeded No. 24 among collegiate squash players. Before the event, which will see seven Yale men’s players and four women’s players from Yale compete, Fenwick sat down with the News to discuss his memorable 2016 campaign.
Q: What does it mean to win the national championship as a senior?
A: It means everything to me. The backbone of my life has been squash. Everything from getting to travel around the world to coming to Yale and making the connections I’ve made, it’s all through squash. It’s something that I’ve dedicated myself to, and I know every man on this team has done that as well. So to get [a national championship] before I graduate is something special, and it’s something that I think we’re all proud of.
Q: And what does it mean for you, specifically, to captain the first Yale team to win in 26 years?
A: It meant a lot to be chosen by my peers. You’re standing in for that role, but throughout the seniors and upperclassmen [the responsibility is] kind of shared between us. There were a lot of things I wasn’t able to do, but all of the seniors were able to help me out and stand by me. At the end of the day it was a lot more than just one individual sharing the responsibility, it was all of us working together, and that speaks volumes to this team.
Q: At the beginning of the season, did you see Yale having a legitimate shot at winning the championship?
A: Definitely, I think the rational thing to do is look at the other losses around the league and see what other teams are looking like. You kind of always know it’s going to be Trinity, it’s going to be Rochester, Harvard, all those guys, they’re tremendously strong teams. You know you have the goals of beating those teams. Even when we lost to Trinity and Rochester it wasn’t really a setback, it was more of a wake up call that we were right there and just needed a little bit more at the end of the season to kind of push us over the line. Our training picked up, the competition in the Ivy League really kept us going and that win against Harvard propelled us forward. I always knew there was an opportunity with the talent we have. There are a lot of [former] champions on this team in their own right from junior squash. We had a bunch of individual champions, but we just needed a team of champions, and that’s what happened.
Q: What were the keys to Yale’s success this year?
A: We put a lot of hard work in, but it was really people being able to produce week after week. It’s hard, with one loss you can take yourself out of an Ivy, you can take yourself out of a national championship, and we just produced consistently throughout the season.
Q: How important was it this season having Zac Leman ’16 and Kah Wah Cheong ’17 back from last year’s season-ending injuries?
A: Bottom line is we couldn’t have done it without them, and they came back so strongly, too. Zac was playing No. 1, Kah Wah came back at No. 4. All four of us top guys were pushing each other, and the rest of the guys were pushing us forward. So [it was important] just having the extra competition on the team, but also that extra experience. Zac is a senior, and Kah Wah is very experienced in his own right. We weren’t just gaining two new players, we were getting back tremendous experience as well.
Q: The coaches have said players improved a lot over the course of the season. Where did you see the most improvement throughout the team?
A: We got closer and closer as a team, which helped us all since we were really playing for each other. As the ball got rolling and we kept taking out big teams, we knew this was something special. But I also think it had a lot to do with the program the coaches put in this season. Traditionally we’ve kind of killed ourselves to get fitter and stronger, whereas I think this year we didn’t try to kill ourselves every week. We chose our sessions that worked in our favor rather than going for volume, so I think we trained smarter and were able to produce throughout the season at a higher level.
Q: Having just won the national tournament, is it at all hard to stay focused on the individual tournament?
A: For all of us it’s a time to play squash at a more enjoyable level. That doesn’t mean we’re going to be any less competitive, but [in team competition] there’s always that pressure that you’re carrying Yale on your shoulders or you’re carrying your teammates, whereas now you can play for yourself and still represent Yale, but not have that pressure of titles and championships expected of you. But we’re trying to have quite a competitive individual tournament as well.
Q: What are people’s goals for the individual tournament?
A: There are a few guys at the top of the ladder, like TJ [Dembinski ’17]. He’s in line for second-team All-American already, and I’m sure he’s hoping for a first-team All-American title as well. Same for myself or Kah Wah [who are hoping for second-team All-American]. It’s a very difficult competition, there’s a lot to do, but hopefully we can grab a few of those titles and hopefully a few divisional titles as well.