The weekend of Feb 20-22, the Vassar College Men’s Squash team capped off their season by winning a National Title during the Collegiate Squash Association Team Championships. To prepare for the Championships, head coach Jane Parker used a number of unique situational strategies, many of which allowed the group to retain its intense, yet comfortable demeanor. “We played a number of conditioned games to develop strategies and handicap matches to gain confidence in dealing with a range of match scenarios [e.g.] making a comeback, maintaining a lead and successfully game finishing. Additionally we had discussions about getting in the zone and sharing our own experiences of this, at most times with humor!” stated coach Parker.
The Brewers entered the weekend as the top seed of the H Division. They went undefeated in their pool after picking up 8-1 wins against Ithaca College and the University of Notre Dame. While these matches were somewhat one-sided, they proved beneficial to the Brewers nonetheless. Junior Tim Boycott added some insight into how these matches helped further prepare the Brewers for the championship, “The matches leading up to the final weren’t too taxing on the team, but they did help us get familiar with the courts and general setting. Squash courts play differently and so spending time on a particular set of them, and becoming habituated, is definitely important.
The Brewers then moved on to face the winner of the other pool in the title match. The final match was against a familiar foe, Bard College. This was the fourth time this season the Brewers have faced the Raptors and coming into the title match, the series was 2-1 in favor of Vassar. Boycott, who joined the squash team just this year, gave his perspective on Bard, “Bard are a great team to play against; they display good sportsmanship and always bring their best to the court. This semester they got a few players back who were studying abroad in the Fall, and that strengthened their lineup, and made the competitions that more competitive. I personally think though that familiarity with their team was an aid for us.” The Brewers were able to come out on top with a come from behind 5-4 victory.
Entering into the final flight of matches, the Brewers were tied 3-3 with Bard. Sophomore Vincent Mencotti, playing at the No.1 spot in the ladder, had a difficult start to his match. He was down 2-0 to Bard’s John Levering. Mencotti came back from the 16-14 and 11-9 defeats with an 11-6 and 11-9 win. In his final set, he responded with a decisive 11-2 victory putting the Brewers up 4-3. After the No. 5 match, the Raptors tied it up once again 4-4 so the No. 7 spot decided the victory. Junior Ben Kurchin faced off against Olivia Cornali. Cornali took the first set 11-6 before Kurchin took the next. Cornali picked up the third victory putting Bard a set away from a national title. Kurchin didn’t bat an eye and had a resounding 11-3 win in the fourth set. During the fifth set, Cornali led for most of it but Kurchin came from behind, showcasing his “inner calm” as coach Parker put it, and came away with an 11-9 victory, winning Vassar’s first national title in school history.
Kurchin, reminiscing, felt as if he may have underestimated his opponent: “My match against Bard last weekend was the most intense match I’ve ever played. My opponent had previously lost in straight sets to players below me on our ladder, so I was overconfident in my ability to win. Towards the end of my match, I realized that mine was the deciding match of the tournament, which increased the pressure I felt not to let my team down. It ended up being very close at the end, but thankfully, we were able to come home with the title.”
Vincent Mencotti advanced to the CSA Championships where he faced Ibrahim Bakir of Drexel University and Sam Ezratty of Princeton. Mencotti feel 3-0 in both matches. He finished his season 12-8, having won seven of his last nine matches. Mencotti was filled with pride talking about his team’s success. “[It was the] best feeling on earth to finish off with a natty [national] title!” He looks back at the Bard match as one of his favorite memories as a squash player at Vassar. “The moment we won [was a] very emotional moment for everyone.” On a personal note, his own performance that match is what he recalled when asked about the best moment of his squash career overall. “[My favorite squash moment was] making a huge comeback win in the No.1 spot to keep us in it [against Bard]!.”
Sophomore Sam Hammer (full disclosure, Sam is a columnist for the Miscellany News) agreed with Mencotti, “[The] best moment of the weekend was watching Vince come back from being down 8-1 in the fourth game to win that game and then the match in the fifth. The best moment in my squash career was coming back from two games down against the Bard Number 9 to win the match in five games.”
Junior Juan Pablo Fernandez was also an impact player as soon as he came back. Being abroad and missing part of the season left him with mixed feelings. “When I returned home [from South Africa], I trained over break back in Mexico and was really excited and really looking forward to joining the team again. Going abroad has its pros and cons because you don’t get to play all that much but I think coming back it was a big plus because I was more devoted and excited about being a part of the team. It gave me something to work harder for and look forward to. I was proud of everything we accomplished and am really looking forward to next season. As soon as it ended I just felt myself left wanting more. Being abroad and coming back I only had 4 weeks with this amazing team and I really wish that my time competing as a part of them this year could have been extended.”
Last year, Fernandez started off playing No. 9 on the ladder; however, this year he played one match at the No. 6 spot, two at the No. 4 and four at the No. 3. Kurchin too was of course a huge impact player on his return. The return of these players certainly helped the Brewers in their end of season push and looking ahead to next year, the future looks just as, if not even brighter. The return of junior Daniel Doctor and a strong incoming class will hopefully keep the Brewers on top. That being said, the leadership and skills of Senior Captains Ryan Kurtzman and David Garfinkel as well as fellow Senior Noah Kulick, will be sorely missed.
This year’s squad, one that contributed to what coach Parker called her most enjoyable season since arriving at Vassar in 2000, will retain the legacy of Vassar’s most successful male squash team to date. This all began with leadership. Said coach Parker, “Following the examples set by the captains, the team has shown the best commitment, communication and time management to date and we’ve had fun sharing many enjoyable experiences as well as a c’est la vie attitude toward bumps in the road.” Hammer too had nothing but positivity and gratitude regarding the graduating class. “I wish them the best of luck. The seniors were fantastic and I am glad to have had the privilege of playing with them over these last two years.”