Excerpts, Rob Dinerman's Collected Squash Histories

Excerpt No. 1 --- This passage from the "A History Of Yale Women's Squash During The Mark Talbott Coaching Era (1998-2004)" chapter chronicles Yale's thrilling 5-4 victory over two-time defending champion Trinity College in the final round of the 2004 Howe Cup (emblematic of the women's national team championship), a breakthrough that launched the Yale women to Howe Cup titles during the following two years as well.

   In the aftermath of the dual meet win over Trinity, Yale breezed through the remainder of the schedule, handily defeating Harvard 7-2 (with Quibell and Gross out-playing Hall and Wilkins, in each case in four games, as would also happen in Yale’s 6-3 win over Harvard in the Howe Cup semis 10 days later) to clinch the Ivy League title. In the run-up to the Howe Cup there was a team meeting, which gave the upperclassmen the chance to impress on the newcomers the importance of the upcoming tournament, just to make sure that everyone was on the same page and fully committed to the looming stretch run. Almost inevitably, Yale and second seed Trinity marched through the draw to the February 22nd final. Just prior to the introductions, in a marked contrast between the teams’ preparatory approaches, the Lady Bantams lined up on the Brady Court quietly and with serious expressions on their faces as they readied for the challenge ahead, while in the Yale team room, the players were dancing on the couches with their two favorite songs (“Don’t Stop Believing,” by Journey and “Hey Ya!” by OutKast) blasting away in the background, just as they had done a few weeks earlier prior to the dual-meet clash with the same opponent, and just as they did before a number of their home matches throughout that whole season.


  When play began, Trinity again garnered the middle trio of matches, which were balanced by wins from Lauren Doline and Sarah Coleman at Nos. 8 and 9 and Kat McLeod’s repeat win over Vaidehi Reddy at No. 3. On the Brady Court, Yale No. 2 Amy Gross fell behind Lynn Leong, whom she had never defeated, two games to love and 5-1 in the third, while Kate Rapisarda, who had spent much of the prior week battling a case of the flu that had sidelined her during the first two rounds of the tournament, was forced to deal as well with a pulled muscle in the right side of her rib-cage incurred during a violent coughing spell that made it especially difficult for her to reach up for an overhead volley. Her questionable physical state, combined with the imposing deficit confronting Gross, caused considerable concern within the Yale camp, since the Lady Bulldogs knew they needed at least a split of those two matches for Michelle Quibell’s impending match with Amina Helal to make a difference in the team outcome.

  That Gross and Rapisarda would BOTH win seemed improbable at best at this juncture, especially after Rapisarda failed to convert a game-ball in her opening game with Fernanda Rocha and lost 9-8. But the plucky Yale freshman bounced back to take the next two games against Rocha before losing the fourth. Meanwhile, Gross was staging a momentous comeback of her own, forcing her lithe Malaysian opponent out of her comfort zone, eliciting a series of errors en route to an 8-0 spurt that rescued the third game and carried her through the 9-7 fourth. Trinity College’s men coach Paul Assaiante, whose squad was in the midst of a 13-year skein (from 1999  through 2011) of Potter Cup championships, the longest-lasting dynasty in the history of college squash, was in the gallery that afternoon to support Coach Bartlett and the Trinity College women. He later  remarked on the drama and the contrast between the two players, with Leong the quiet, self-contained control player, flitting around seemingly effortlessly  like a graceful butterfly and conjuring up sinewy angles with her deft ball placement, while Gross was the voluble and emotive power player, determination oozing out of every pore, a true Bulldog and never more so than this afternoon. Lauren McCrery, watching from the gallery, saw Leong’s resolve gradually melt away as the fifth game wore on to its eventual 9-6 conclusion, and she later described Gross as “a warrior. Every ball was hers and if she didn’t get one the next ball was hers for sure. She simply willed her way past Leong.”

   An ecstatic Gross, whose Summer 2003 decision to significantly upgrade her conditioning level in preparation for her sophomore season found its full reward in her dramatic comeback win over the vaunted Leong, told a Yale Daily News reporter that, “In such a long match I think it comes down to who is fitter and who wants it more. And I really wanted to win.”

  So did both Rapisarda and her fellow freshman Rocha, who by the time Gross-Leong ended were locked in a death-grip and had to have realized how crucial their match had become from the way the number of onlookers suddenly tripled as their fifth game was beginning way down the hallway on Court 12. Rapisarda and her classmate McCrery had formed a special connection during that season in spite of the fact that they frequently opposed each other in challenge matches, and they had spent the evening before the Howe Cup final roaming the campus and reminding their friends to show up the next day. They also had  begun a ritual before big matches of painting Y’s and ‘04’s on each other’s cheeks, and, when an exhausted Rapisarda exited the court after losing the fourth game against Rocha, it was McCrery who tended to her and gave her a rousing “you can do this!” pep talk before the fifth game began. By this time, with the Yale supporters massed on one side of the gallery and the large Bantam cheering section on the other, there wasn’t even a pretext of subtlety, as both players whaled away at the ball in a fifth game that became an endless series of lengthy last-person-standing exchanges that was going to go to the player who was better able to stay focused or who more often was able to power the ball into a deep-court nick and/or avoid errors. Enmeshed in a brutal battle of attrition at a time when she was nowhere near 100%, Rapisarda found herself gasping for breath and leaning on her racquet after almost every point, frequently appearing to be on the verge of complete exhaustion.

   Rocha was clearly feeling the strain as well, and both players responded brilliantly to the mind-bending exigencies of the moment as the game seesawed cruelly along, with the court enveloped throughout that game in a ferocious crowd-reaction din after every point --- until finally Rapisarda was able to torturously boot-strap her way to a 9-5 win that clinched the 2004 Howe Cup crown for the delirious Yalies and reduced the Quibell-Helal match (which Helal won) to a meaningless “dead rubber.”

   Coach Assaiante’s analysis of this pair of climactic matches was that the endings were “like two exhausted heavyweight fighters throwing haymakers in the 15th round. The Trinity players were trying to move the ball around and play classic squash, while the Yale players kept running everything down and hammering away, and ultimately the Trinity players wilted under the Yale physicality.” McLeod, who had scored Yale’s first point of the day and hence had a front-row view as both the Gross and Rapisarda matches reached their culmination, emphasized that if there was a single animating theme of the entire season, it was how bonded together that team was, and that no better expression of that phenomenon existed than what happened during the fifth games of those two matches. “We pulled like crazy for each other,” she said. “We fought like lions for one another. Kate couldn’t breathe, looked ready to collapse, yet she kept playing, kept fighting. There was SO much heart on that team.”

   Quibell and Helal would meet for the final time that season two weeks later in the final round of the Intercollegiate Individual championships at St. Lawrence, where Helal’s attempt for a three-peat would be brusquely denied when Quibell took the first game 9-5, arm-fought her way through the second 10-8 in what would prove to be the defining sequence of the match, and never looked back, racing through the third game 9-3. Quibell had straight-gamed Trinity’s Reddy in her semi, while Helal had done the same to McLeod, who in her quarterfinal match had rallied from two games to love down against Gross.


  With Quibell’s triumph over Helal at St. Lawrence, the Yale 2003-04 season ended with the Elis going undefeated wire to wire, capturing college women’s squash “Triple Crown” (Ivy League title, regular-season national title, Howe Cup title) and returning the Individuals trophy to New Haven for the first time since Berkeley Belknap had won this event 13 years earlier in 1991. It also ended with Talbott writing a letter to the Board of the Skillman Associates in July in which, while announcing that for personal and family-related reasons he had decided to resign his position at Yale, he emphasized what a privilege it had been to coach the finest team in the land. The letter concluded, “I can’t thank everyone enough for the overwhelming support you have shown me and my family over the past six years. It has been an honor to have been part of the Yale tradition of greatness.”

   Ultimately, while Talbott moved on --- and is, as of this September 2016 writing, about to enter his 13th season as the men’s and women’s squash coach at Stanford University in Palo Alto, while still running summer squash camps at the Talbott Squash Academy and at Stanford --- the legacy he established during his tenure at Yale propelled the team (coached that year and up to the present time by his brother Dave, who for the  past 12 years and counting has been both the Yale men’s and women’s coach) to a second straight Triple Crown season in 2004-05, which again ended with Quibell capturing the Individuals in a convincing four-game final at Dartmouth over Harvard No. 1 Kyla Grigg. Throughout that match, and especially in the way she dominated the final three games (9-1, 2 and 5) after narrowly dropping the 9-7 opener, Quibell, in a compelling display of the mobility she had first demonstrated in the beep drill a half-dozen years earlier, pounced on every loose ball so early and punished it to such telling effect, that Grigg (who would win this tournament two years later as a senior in 2007) became increasingly overwhelmed by the pace her opponent was setting. Afterwards, Grigg’s Harvard teammate Audrey Duboc, herself a victim of Quibell’s relentless march through that draw in the round of 16, described the final as “a great, great match. Quibell broke Kyla down. She is a steady, focused player who is hard to crack. There is no freebie with that girl.”

    A third consecutive Howe Cup title followed in 2005-06, the only national-champion three-peat in the history of Yale squash, men’s or women’s. Hampered throughout her Yale career by lower-back and upper-leg injuries, Rachita Vora decided to forgo her senior season, but her classmates Quibell and Gross won the deciding matches in Yale’s 5-4 2006 Howe Cup final-round triumph over Trinity College on a day in which Rapisarda again contributed an important victory as well. Quibell’s match with Reddy and Gross’s with Ashley Clackson ended almost simultaneously after Trinity had taken a 4-3 lead. Later that year, Dave Talbott was awarded the prestigious President’s Cup “to the person who has made substantial, sustained and significant contributions to the game of squash,” which had been bestowed on Mark Talbott 17 years earlier in 1989, the only time that two members of the same family have received this award.

Excerpt No. 2 --- This passage from the "A History Of The ISDA Pro Doubles Tour: A Ten-Match Anthology" chapter constitutes the eighth of the 10 matches discussed in this chapter, namely the decisive encounter of the 2007-08 season.

Kellner Cup Final: Damien Mudge/Viktor Berg d. Paul Price/Ben Gould, 10-15 15-9 10-15 16-15 16-13.

This rivalry steadily heated up as the 2007-08 campaign, Mudge/Berg's first as teammates and Price/Gould's second, moved along. Price and Gould recovered from their aforementioned pair of disconcerting October losses to Walker and Leach by taking three of the following four events, while Mudge and Berg, after taking most of the fall months to get themselves squared away (and for Berg to regain full trust in his injured right leg while Mudge was getting comfortable in his new spot on the left wall), caught fire right around Thanksgiving, attaining the finals of all eight ISDA events from mid-November to the late-April Kellner Cup, winning six of them, two of which, in Greenwich and Brooklyn, came at the final-round expense of Price and Gould.

Each team came into the final week of the season knowing that by winning (and ONLY by winning) the Kellner Cup it would both clinch the No. 1 end-of-season team ranking and come away with that season's most lucrative winner's check and one of its most coveted trophies. Both semifinals were challenging tests --- Mudge/Berg were forced to a second-set tiebreaker by Russell/Quick and Price/Gould trailed Walker/Leach 10-7 in the fourth before their 8-1 close-out dash to 15-12 --- but both were at full strength for the final. At least they were at full strength for the BEGINNING of the final, during the course of which, however, both left-wall players rolled their ankles, Price when his feet got tangled with Mudge's in the fourth game, and Mudge when he went over on the side of his foot in the fifth. There were a number of other tension-building play stoppages as well (several balls broke; there were a number of urgent between-point partner consultations; the floor often had to be toweled off on this humid, rainy evening; the between-games breaks usually well exceeded the two-minute scheduled time span; and several of referee Larry Sconzo's calls were disputed by the players, though his decisions were almost always sustained by the line judges), all of which gave the lengthy evening a kind of dislocating quality as the match progressed erratically but rivetingly along to its conclusion.

The play itself among these remarkably contemporaneous (all being at the time more than six months past their 30th birthday, with none yet having attained his 32nd) and athletically gifted superstars, though always high-paced, alternated between bursts of brilliance and occasional miscues (the tin count was fairly high, especially at the very end, as we will see), which consequently led to wild swings in momentum. If the first three games (the first and third of which went to Price/Gould) were entertaining and engrossing, it must be said that ultimately they served mostly as a prelude for the terrific fourth and fifth, which elevated the overall competitive and spectating experience to an entirely different level of intensity and drama. After Mudge and Berg had jumped out to leads of 4-0 and 6-1 in the fourth game, Price and Gould embarked upon a sustained run of excellence (paradoxically ENHANCED by Price's ankle injury, which disrupted the Mudge/Berg game plan by luring them to concentrate on moving Price, who made them pay with countering winners) in an 11-3 surge, capped off by a pair of Price nick-winners, that put them at 12-9, just three points from the title.

A furious three-point Mudge/Berg rally (on a daring Berg serve-return drop shot, a Mudge rail past Price and a Berg three-wall nick) made it 12-all, but in a bit of terrible bad luck, Mudge's inside-out cross-court from the back wall hit his partner Berg's racquet, jarring it from his hand and putting Price and Gould at 13-12. Berg then cleanly passed Price with a cross-court winner, and on the first point of the best-of-five tiebreaker, Mudge scored on a shallow drop shot. His lob attempt on the ensuing point sailed just over the front-wall boundary, and on the next exchange, both Mudge and Berg were caught up front tracking down a Price three-wall, leaving Gould the whole court for a sizzling rail winner and double-championship-point. This golden opportunity was thwarted first by Mudge's off-balance and severely-angled reverse-corner (upon which Price threw up his hands in triumph, initially and perhaps wishfully thinking that it had caught the top of the tin) and then when Price tinned one of his wickedly angled roll-corner volleys that seldom are returned.

Two years earlier, as mentioned, Gould (partnering Quick at the time) had similarly had a Kellner Cup double-match-point chance slip away (in the third game of their semi against Walker and Berg) and wound up losing in five. It appeared that the same fate awaited him this time around as well when Mudge and Berg moved out to a 10-5 lead in the fifth. But a trio of Price winners, the last on a backhand cross-court that rolled out in front of Berg, made it 8-10, then 8-11 on a compelling Berg forehand reverse-corner. A mis-hit Price overhead that trickled just over the tin and a backhand cross-court drop nick that froze Berg keyed a 4-0 Price/Gould run (7-1 overall from 5-10) to 12-11, preceding a miraculous look-away reverse-corner winner from Berg (12-all), then a tinned Mudge reverse-corner counter-balanced by another Berg winner for 13-all.

To that juncture, after more than two hours of exhausting and pulsating action, the two teams had played each other to a total statistical and territorial standstill. Price had garnered far more winners (as well as more tins) than anyone else; Gould, who had committed only one fully unforced error to that juncture of the fifth game, had been relentlessly firing away with his scorching cross-courts and drives, making Mudge play more defense (which he had done brilliantly) than he has ever been forced into doing; and Berg, who like Price had had his ups and downs, had come up with his best sustained performance exactly when it had most been needed, in the testing end-portion of those fourth and fifth games. All three had been magnificent in their own individual way.

But if there was one overriding and outcome-determinative phenomenon in this gripping five-part, 140-minute epic drama that played out in the cathedral-like confines of Racquet & Tennis on this memorable Monday evening, then surely it had to have been Mudge's irrepressible fighting spirit, his incomparable athletic skills and his indomitable competitive ardor. These qualities have enabled him to switch both partners and walls as successfully as he has, while amassing an ISDA record 95 titles and richly earning the right (though no vote has ever been taken, nor does any such designation officially exist) to be regarded as the ISDA Player Of The Decade. Five years to the day removed from the only Kellner Cup defeat that he and Waite sustained, Mudge imposed his will on the turbulent final stretch of the match, wearing his Aussie-compatriot opponents down and playing at least a partial role in the trio of early-point tins (the first by Gould, who appeared to lose track of a Mudge cross-court, and then two in a row by Price, first on an attempted shallow rail winner and then on a routine-appearing cross-court) that accounted for the fifth-set best-of-five tiebreaker.

If it seemed poetically unjust that a match heretofore characterized by such captivating, lengthy all-court exchanges would end on three swift (consuming less than two minutes combined) unforced tins, like finding a badly misspelled word in the last paragraph of a cherished book, it must nevertheless be said that the story of the entire Mudge/Berg 2007-08 season was their ability to somehow find a way, just as had been the case with Price/Gould in 2006-07. Seen in that light, the rally that the eventual champions were able to generate from the late-game deficits they overcame in the fourth and fifth games constituted a fitting calling-card for the supremacy that became theirs that night and that lasted through the 2008-09 season (when they again nosed out Price/Gould for No. 1 by defeating them in the final event of the season in Vancouver) and well into 2009-10 as well.