Greg Cameron

After mixed results this past weekend on the road, the No. 8 Yale men’s squash team will turn attention to conference play in the familiar stomping grounds of the Brady Squash Center.

The defending national- and Ivy- champion Bulldogs (5–5, 2–1 Ivy) suffered a narrow, hard-fought 5–4 loss to No. 5 Drexel (10–4) on Friday before rebounding the following day with 7–2 and 9–0 tallies against No. 12 George Washington (4–6) and No. 11 Navy (15–5), respectively. The pair of victories on Saturday put an end to a recent losing skid in which Yale dropped five out of six matches, including four in a row, and fell from No. 2 to No. 8 in the national rankings.

“Drexel is a team that has improved a lot over the last few years,” Arjun Kochhar ’18 said. “There were a couple of tight five-gamers that could’ve gone either way at No. 2 and No. 6, but unfortunately we couldn’t pull it out.”

Kochhar, playing at No. 7, found himself facing sudden elimination after dropping his first two games by 11–9 scores — the narrowest margin not requiring extra points. At this point Drexel led Yale 4–3 and a loss for Kochhar would seal his team’s fate. After regrouping between games, the junior headed into the third with a new game plan and a doggedness that led him to overwhelm his opponent 11–8, 11–7, 11–5 to claim a win in the decisive fifth.

Four of the nine matches against the Dragons required the maximum five games to determine a winner, demonstrating the parity of the competition. In addition to Kochhar, No. 8 Pierson Broadwater ’18 claimed a victory in his fifth game with 11–13, 11–7, 11–1, 5–11 and 11–6 scores. Captain and No. 2 TJ Dembinski ’17 fell 14–12 in his fifth game and No. 6 Thomas Kingshott ’18 lost 11–8 in his final contest. Dembinski’s first game, which he lost 12–10, also required extra points to determine a victor.

Ultimately, the entire match came down to just one point. After trading games back and forth, the two schools were tied at four wins apiece, and all attention turned to the big stage where Spencer Lovejoy ’20 battled Drexel’s Omar El Atmas at No. 1. Lovejoy dropped his first two games to the Cairo native by 11–3 and 11–5 marks, and while a desperate last stand from the Eli freshman tied the third at 13–13, El Atmas clinched the match with a 15–13 win.

“The match against Drexel was very heated and every match could have gone either way,” Lovejoy said. “Both teams had their chances to finish it off, but unfortunately we fell just slightly short and they were able to capitalize on the crucial points. However, I liked the way everyone fought and it was a learning experience for sure.”

Yale reversed its misfortunes the following day with a pair of wins in the span of a few hours. The Bulldogs opened competition Saturday morning with a 7–2 win over GW. Showcasing the team’s depth, the Bulldogs — who were without the play of top-nine regulars Dembinski and Liam McClintock ’17 — secured 3–0 sweeps in the No. 6 through No. 9 positions. Yale’s lone losses came from No. 2 Kah Wah Cheong ’17 and No. 4 Kingshott, who both fell in four games.

Later in the day, the fatigued Bulldogs cruised to a clean 9–0 win against the Midshipmen, just their third sweep of the season and their first since Dec. 6, 2016. Again, the Bulldogs secured victory without two regular roster players, this time with McClintock and Cheong out of the lineup.

The win against Navy marked the seventh consecutive away match in just 18 days for the Bulldogs, who have not competed at home since a week before classes resumed.

“It’s been an extremely rough stretch of away games for us and, even though the results haven’t been ideal, the team has learned a lot,” Kochhar said. “We’re happy to be done with all the travel and are hungry to play on our home turf again this weekend.”

Yale will face off against No. 10 Princeton (2–5, 0–2 Ivy) this Saturday and No. 6 Penn (5–4, 1–1 Ivy) on Sunday in what will be crucial matches for a Bulldog squad aiming to defend its Ivy title. Yale also hosted the Tigers and Quakers back-to-back in early February last year, clinching respective 7–2 and 6–3 wins en route to the Elis’ perfect 7–0 conference record.

After suffering a 7–2 upset loss to then-No. 5 Columbia earlier in the season, Yale currently sports a 2–1 record against Ancient Eight competition. With both the Lions and No. 4 Harvard holding 3–0 conference records, a pair of wins this weekend will likely be necessary for the Bulldogs to compete for a share of the Ivy title heading into their final matches of the season, both against Ivy League foes.

“With the positive momentum and the strong performance last weekend, the home matches are a great chance to add a couple of wins to our Ivy League Championship campaign,” Jonathan Kovac ’19 said. “Penn and Princeton are strong teams with good results this season, but this is in our hands; playing in front of our crowd will give us the extra push to show our strength.”

Yale opens play at the Brady Squash Center on Saturday at 4 p.m.