In front of an energized and packed audience at the Arrillaga Center for Sports & Recreation, No. 5 Stanford women’s squash (3-3) fell 5-4 to No. 6 Yale (8-1) in a thriller that came down to the very last matches and left Stanford head coach Mark Talbott still searching for his first win over his brother, Yale head coach Dave Talbott.
Yale jumped out to a 3-1 lead as the early matches finished, but Stanford took the next three to regain control 4-3. Stanford then claimed a 1-0 lead in both of the remaining two individual matches. However, Yale didn’t let up and came back to win both, edging Stanford overall 5-4.
Yale dominated the top of the ladder, winning matches at the one, two, three, four and six spots, while Stanford won at five, seven, eight and nine. However, several of those matches — particularly the last two — could have easily gone the other way.
With Stanford up 4-3, the only remaining matches were the No. 1’s and the No. 4’s. Between the No. 1’s, Stanford freshman Casey Wong and Yale senior Jenny Scherl traded games. Wong won the first and third, while Sherl won the second and fourth, pushing it to a fifth. In the fifth, Sherl won six straight points to take the 8-3 advantage and fought off Wong’s comeback attempt to secure the 12-10 victory for the game and the top-seeded match.
That left only one contest remaining to break the 4-4 tie.
Stanford junior Sarah Bell had gotten out to a 1-0 lead over Yale senior Shiyuan Mao by winning the first 11-8, which would be the most lopsided game of the match.
As the fans all turned their attention to the one court still in action, the space was filled with utter silence besides the squeaking of shoes and regular thuds of the ball hitting the front wall. Mao came back from losing the first game to win the back-and-forth second game 13-11. She reeled off six straight points to take the third game 12-10 and edged out Bell 11-9 in the fourth.
It was the second consecutive time that the Cardinal have been one match away from taking down the Bulldogs, as Stanford also lost 5-4 when they squared off at Nationals last February. The Talbott brothers’ rivalry has become far more competitive in recent years as Stanford has continued to build its program, but Mark has never won the coaching battle against Dave. Many thought that this year might be the one for Stanford to earn familial bragging rights for its coach, but it was not to be.
Mark Talbott was upbeat despite the loss, and said, “In the last couple of years, these teams have been very close. We used to lose handily to Yale every year, but the past couple years we’ve narrowed the gap. It was a few points separating the teams today, really just a couple points.”
If there’s tension between the brothers stemming from coaching against one another, it isn’t apparent. Throughout the match, there were multiple times when they could be seen trading looks of excitement and lighthearted fun over how points played out on the courts. At other times, they stood together, whispering into each other’s ears and laughing with big smiles on their faces.
And as for positive takeaways from the match, Mark Talbott said, “It’s all great experience, and all these matches — and all the teams — are gearing towards end-of-season Nationals … so we might get another shot at this team.”
As collegiate squash is mainly concentrated in the Northeast and most matches are played there, the rare Stanford home squash match was a treat for many of the spectators. A good number of fans lacked fundamental knowledge of the sport but clearly enjoyed themselves nonetheless. Questions such as “How do you score a point?” were heard alongside suggestions like “There should be a version of squash on ice, like hockey,” in between oohs and ahhs at the players’ usage of the walls and angles and their ability to return tricky shots.
After falling to Harvard on Thursday and Yale Saturday, Stanford rounded up its rare homestand of three matches in four days against No. 2 Penn (5-1) on Sunday. While the Cardinal hoped to turn around a disappointing start to the weekend, a strong initial push by Penn proved too much for the team, as Stanford fell to Pennsylvania 6-3 to close out the home series.
The team is back in action next weekend on the East Coast, with matches against Trinity on Saturday and Cornell on Sunday.
Contact Jamie MacFarlane at jamiemac ‘at’ stanford.edu.