The squash team achieved its season-long goal of finishing in the nation’s top-20, after defeating Massachusetts Institute of Technology 6-3 in the first round of Team Nationals on Friday.
After finishing the regular season on a high note with a gutsy 5-4 win over Saint Lawrence University, the Yellowjackets were focused and ready entering the annual tournament hosted by Princeton University.
In the tournament’s Summers Division quarterfinals, UR drew the MIT Engineers, a team that had already beaten the Yellowjackets earlier in the year. On Feb. 1, UR, who entered Team Nationals ranked 23rd in the country suffered a heartbreaking 4-5 to the Engineers at MIT.
That defeat gave seventh-seeded UR extra incentive to knock off the No. 2 seed Engineers.
“We were looking forward to MIT,” senior Pete Avitable said. “We wanted another chance to beat them.”
As if avenging the MIT loss wasn’t enough motivation for UR, the Yellowjackets also knew that a victory would ensure them a top-20 finish.
“Winning the match was crucial to where we placed,” junior Dave Easwaren said. “That alone was enough to make the match important.”On Friday, the Yellowjackets came out, going up 2-1 after the first round courtesy of wins from freshmen Billy Ferzoco at the No. 3 spot and Steve Gelb at the ninth position.
After falling behind two games to one, Gelb warded off bouts of fatigue and frustration, and mounted an impressive comeback to secure the victory.
In the second round, sophomore Dave Sokoloff and Easwaren each won at the No. 2 and No. 5 spots, respectively, to help put UR up 4-2 heading into the final stage of matches.
After senior Allen Fitzsimmons dropped a match to Naveen Goela at the top spot Avitable clinched a Yellowjacket victory with an impressive win against Rodney Huang at the No. 4 position.Junior Drew Chapman won at the No. 7 spot to close out the 6-3 victory and send the Yellowjackets into the semifinals, where they would face Colby College.
By beating MIT, UR secured a spot among the 20 best squads in the country, and in so doing, reached the goal it had set for itself before the season began.
“Winning was a good feeling,” Avitable said. “It made our season.”On Feb. 22, UR took the court against the third-seeded White Mules. Having not played them during the regular season, the Yellowjackets were unfamiliar with Colby’s athletes and style of play and Easwaren described a victory as, “a long shot.”
“The Colby match was an unknown. We really knew nothing about them,” Avitable said.
UR fell to Colby 7-2, as Fitzsimmons and freshman Max Benjamin were the only Yellowjackets to steal a match.
On the final day of the tournament, UR took on fourth-seeded Tufts University, and again came up short.
While UR was not victorious on either of its final two days of competition, the team still feels satisfied with its efforts.
“It felt good just to move up,” Easwaren said. “It is just an ongoing process. Next year we can go for even more.”
UR’s season could be described as, among other things, tumultuous. After the best start in team history, the Yellowjackets were reeling after they dropped six of seven matches. But the squad was resilient and never lost sight of its goal.
“This year was a rollercoaster ride,” Avitable said. “We got discouraged after the string of losses and coming back from that showed a lot of character.”
Next weekend, the Yellowjackets will send Fitzsimmons to Trinity College to compete in Individual Nationals. A veteran and team leader, Fitzsimmons spent the entire season battling the best that UR opponents had to offer at the No. 1 position. Fitzsimmons will be the Yellowjackets’ lone representative at Individual Nationals, where his final national ranking will be determined.
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