BOSTON — It wasn’t the end result they wanted, but things ended on a good note nonetheless.
Competing at the CSA team championships this past weekend, Penn men’s squash secured a seventh-place finish with a 7-2 win over Yale in its final match of the season. The contest with the Bulldogs followed an 8-1 opening-round loss to eventual national champion Trinity and a 6-3 loss to fourth-seeded Rochester.
“When the pride is on the line, our team always comes through and always rises to the occasion,” senior captain BG Lemmon said. “Playing for seventh place isn’t the most glamorous thing — it isn’t what we had in mind — but we were playing for ourselves, we were playing to avenge our loss to Yale [earlier in February]. ... Whoever had the bigger heart, whoever wanted it more today was going to win, and we wanted it really badly.”
With the Quakers (9-8) taking on No. 1 Trinity (19-1) to start things off Friday, the road was always going to be rough. When No. 9 Jonathan Zeitels opened up play with a three-game win, however, it seemed like the Red and Blue might be able to pull off the upset.
“I always like to start early,” he said afterward. “I like building off the crowd and hopefully I can translate that to my teammates.”
Yet it wasn’t to be.
In the remaining eight matches, only Lemmon — playing at No. 8 — and junior Hayes Murphy — at No. 2 — were able to log first-set wins. The result was Penn spending most of the matches trying to play catch-up against the best team in the nation, and they just couldn’t do it.
The Quakers dropped the last eight matches — without picking up a game at Nos. 3-5 — and were forced into the consolation bracket. In order to work their way into the 5th place game, the Red and Blue would have to get past No. 4 Rochester (13-4) the following day.
“I think after Trinity we left [feeling] pretty positive and we felt like we had more to prove,” Murphy explained. “So even though we were a little heartbroken afterwards, we were still proud of ourselves.”
At Nos. 9 and 6, Zeitels and James Watson were able to get some early momentum against the Yellowjackets with a pair of 3-1 wins. But just like Friday, the early wins were just about all the Quakers could muster.
Rochester rattled off five straight wins to make it 5-2, leaving No. 4 Karim Hussein and No. 7 David Yacobucci to finish their games off. Though Hussein was felled in straight sets, Yacobucci was able to force a fifth game and ultimately prevailed in the final contest of the evening — putting the final score at 6-3 Yellowjackets.
Saturday’s loss meant the Quakers still had yet one more match to play: a Sunday afternoon bout with Yale (8-9) in a battle for seventh place.
“We started to click on Saturday even though we lost,” Murphy noted. “Then going into Sunday we still had a lot of energy, and we knew that Yale was the one team we hadn’t beaten yet, and I think that really motivated us.”
The one-two punch of Watson and Zeitels worked its magic again on Sunday, netting the Quakers a pair of opening wins capped off by a particularly strong 11-1 win in the fourth set from Watson to seal his match.
For Zeitels, the weekend marked the end of a breakout season as the sophomore logged an 11-0 mark from the top nine spots on the ladder.
“He played incredibly this weekend,” Lane said. “He stuck to a simple game plan. Sometimes players just find their groove at a point in the season and they just roll with it.”
No. 3 Murphy logged a 3-0 win to keep momentum rolling until a 3-1 loss for No. 5 Larson got Yale on the board. Lemmon — after missing Saturday’s match due to injury — closed out his college career with a 3-0 win at No. 8 that included a nice comeback in the second set after facing a 10-9 game point and put the Quakers on the verge of victory.
From there, No. 7 Yacobucci iced it in three games and No. 4 Hussein made it 6-1 with his own four-game win. Although Derek Hsue ultimately lost at No. 2, Mahmoud closed the year out with a victory and got Penn the 7-2 win.
The win was the Quakers’ first over the Bulldogs since 2006, a bright note for the end of the careers of Lemmon and fellow senior Rahil Fazelbhoy — even better when considering that Penn will return 11 of its top 12 guys for the 2017-18 season.
It also marked the first time since 1973 that the Red and Blue knocked off all seven Ivies in a two-year span, with the Bulldogs having been the last team remaining for the Quakers to beat.
“I went out and I was playing for myself,” Lemmon reflected. “I was playing to end my career on a win, trying to beat a kid I hadn’t beaten in a long time.
“It was fun, I had a lot of fun out there. I hit some shots that I normally wouldn’t hit because it was my last chance, and luckily for me they fell today.”