Most of the spectating at the squash courts at Yale is done from balconies above the cubes themselves. When you’re up there, there’s nothing buffering the noise of the court. The ball echoes ten times louder when it explodes off the front wall, and the pounding of footsteps and squealing of court shoes starts blending together across all 15 courts into one electrifying pulse. From the balcony you can see the sweat and hear the players mutter under their breath. Somehow watching from behind the wall also mitigates the speed of the game, and the physicality. When you watch from above, you realize that each point is a titanic clash, mental and physical. It’s fretful and goes a million miles an hour, and, from above, there’s no glass wall separating you from it.
This weekend both the men’s and women’s squash teams competed at the College Squash Association Nationals at Yale. The women competed in the D division, and the men competed in the C division.
The 26th-ranked Wesleyan women pulled together some of their best squash of the season to bring gold back to Middletown, defeating 25th-ranked Dickinson College in the final after victories over Vassar College and William Smith College.
“This was the best weekend of the women’s season by far,” said Abigail Smith ’17. “I have never seen the team fight so hard and come together for such great wins against both William Smith and Dickinson.”
The 19th-ranked men lost in the third place match of their division to 20th-ranked University of Virginia after trouncing 22nd-ranked Amherst in the first round and then falling to 18th-ranked Williams in the semifinals.
The weekend was the final stop for seniors Liza Bayless, Bridget Doherty, Tessa Hill, Ellen Paik, Raheem Logan, Guy Davidson, Jason Brandner, and Alex Bakes. These loyal Cards were determined to go out with a bang in their final team competitions (some will be playing at the Individual National Championships in March), just another narrative that colored the teams’ performances this weekend.
The women’s team’s goal was to win the D division. After a year that included its fair share of defeats, the squad dropped down a conference and, no doubt with a chip on its shoulder, intended to dominate the opponents now put in front of it.
The first-round rematch with Vassar, whom the Cards had dusted 9-0 just a week earlier, was somehow even more dominant. The squad won seven matches in three games and two in four.
On Saturday, they went toe-to-toe with William Smith College, whom they had beaten 7-2 in early December. The Herons came out much improved against the higher-seeded Cardinals, and mustered something of a fight.
Doherty extended her superb play of late, taking care of her opponent in three games. Ali Imperiale ’19 put up a four-game victory early on in the contest, and Ale Lampietti ’19 and Abigail Smith also emerged with relatively comfortable wins, putting the Cards on the cusp of victory due to an automatic win from Laila Samy ’18, who has still yet to play. Bayless lost in an insanely tight four-gamer against a worthy opponent who played incredibly well.
Samy, as usual, scorched her opponent, giving up only two points in total, and earning her team a trip to challenge for the division title.
Though Hobart did manage four victories, the Cardinals were through before the late matches were over.
On Sunday, the squad had a chance to make the weekend perfect against Dickinson, and they made no mistake. Once again, everyone came to play and the match was always essentially in the Cardinals’ control.
Doherty, Imperiale, and Paik won in the first slate of games. Once again, Doherty came out hot off the blocks and did not give her opponent a chance to settle en route to a 3-0 victory. Paik similarly controlled her match, cruising in games two and three after winning a tight game one. Imperiale held her opponent off in five, stifling a comeback after she went up 2-0.
With a 3-0 advantage heading into the second start time, things were looking solid for the Cards. Of the second trio of number-two Bayless, number-five Smith, and number-eight Lampietti, only Smith emerged with a win. She controlled the match after losing the first game to win 3-1. Bayless again faced a strong opponent and fought extremely hard but came up short in a tight four-game battle.
Samy then sealed victory for the Cards with another dispassionate 3-0 victory, and Annie Ferreira ’17, like Imperiale, staved off a comeback after winning the first two games to win in five and push the Cardinal win total to six.
“I’m incredibly proud of the entire women’s team on all of the effort they have put in throughout the season and over this past weekend,” Doherty said. “The energy and enthusiasm we’ve created together over the past several months has definitely pushed me to become both a better player and teammate. I couldn’t be happier to share this amazing victory with such an incredible group of women, and to have such a phenomenal weekend to mark the end of my collegiate career. Special congratulations to all of the seniors on an amazing four years.”
“Winning the D division this weekend was an amazing outcome for our season,” Bayless said. “Pulling out a 6-3 win against Dickinson, who was ranked above us was such an exciting win and was an incredible end to the season. Each player fought hard, and it was a lot of fun to see everyone channel what’s worked this season in our final three matches. I’m so proud of the team, feel lucky to have worked with them this season, and can’t wait to hear where it goes in the next few years under the leadership of the younger players.”
For the men, the goal was to beat Amherst on Friday, challenge Williams (while understanding that victory was a lofty goal), and then beat whomever they played on Sunday, so as to finish on seed (they were seeded third).
“We may not have played our best against UVA, but the dominance in our win against Amherst was really cool,” Davidson said. “We’ve never—really never—beaten them that decisively.”
On one of the best days of the season, the Cards put the beat-down on Amherst, clinching the victory with wins in the first five matches to finish. Chris Hart ’17, Zachary Roach ’17, David Sneed ’17, Bakes, and Brandner made quick work of their opposition to seal the triumph and take the pressure off the Cards’ remaining four competitions. Logan then dominated in three games to put the Cards up 6-0. Securing advancement to the next round early allowed Alex Kamisher ’17 to retire when injuries started to nag (which he did immediately after burying a nick to win the third game and go up 2-1 in games). Davidson then controlled the number-one matchup against longtime Amherst foe Noah Browne, winning in a tight, but inevitable, three-gamer.
The final score was 7-2. It flattered Amherst. Six of the wins were in sweeps (one was in four), and one of Amherst’s wins was Kamisher’s default. Everything clicked for the Cardinals and it set them up well for the rest of the weekend.
“We had a really collective effort in beating Amherst 7-2 on one of the biggest stages,” Logan said. “Although everyone did not win, it was one of the first times all of our team had clicked on all cylinders the whole season. I was so proud to see how far we’ve come.”
On Saturday, the men squared up against Williams. Although the Ephs are an extremely strong team (they’d beaten the Cards 8-1 at the Little Threes), the Cards entered the match on a high from the Amherst drubbing and intended to challenge the boys from Williamstown at every position.
“We battled to our last breath, man,” Logan said. “The 8-1 score does not show how close that match was. Every single person fought out there. We scared them from one through nine in our lineup for the first time in a while.”
Davidson echoed that sentiment.
“We have never put up as hard a fight from one through nine as we did against Williams,” he said. “We should be proud of that.”
In the end, the Cards fell by the same score line, but it was nonetheless an impressive display on their part. Hart battled a hard-nosed opponent tooth and nail but couldn’t turn a 2-1 advantage into victory, and there were battles everywhere up and down the ladder.
The Sunday match gave the Cards a chance to earn third place in the C division and offered them a chance for revenge against a UVA squad that had beaten them 8-1 in November. This time around was always going to be a different story, and the Cards held high hopes of emerging victorious against an up-and-coming program whose entire roster were first-years and sophomores.
Unfortunately, the squad came out on the wrong foot against the young guns, and ended up losing the first five decisions, which gave UVA the win. Hart retired four points into his match due to injury, but Sneed, Davidson, and Lounsbury snatched victories. In the last match of his career, Davidson went to work and systematically wore down his opponent, winning in a relatively comfortable four-gamer. Roach fell 11-9 in the fifth game of an absolute marathon. Without a few injuries and if a few points had gone the other way, the Cards would have come away victorious.
“We lost to UVA on Sunday, but that one match doesn’t define how far we’ve come as a team this season,” Logan said. “We battled through some injuries, and it was one the best collective efforts that I’ve experienced since I’ve been here.”
“This season was amazing,” he said. “It’s the second straight season we were expected by others to regress, yet we matched our highest ever NESCAC finish and swept Amherst. We hadn’t even beaten them once in over two decades before my freshman year.”
Both captains then reflected on their equally inspiring squash careers.
“My career can be defined by the development of the juniors into the future leaders that they will be,” Logan said. “I try to set a tone by working my heart out each and every day and being my true self. I was fortunate enough to have teammates that accepted me for who I am. That is Wesleyan Squash, and I will ever be a Cardinal and proud member of this program.”
“This was the closest and hardest working our team has ever been, and I’m extremely happy to have been a part of it,” Davidson said. “It’s hard to think about not being with this group every day next year, but it makes it much easier knowing that the program is in great hands with our returning players and our coaches.”