Thursday, May 9, 2019


McQueenie Cup – April 26-27, 2019

It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year. The McQueenie Cup is an annual team event that is played amongst mid-West clubs, and to make it so much more enjoyable, is generally played at the University Club of Chicago. There are positives and negatives to that. Awesome that it’s in Chicago. Crappy that we have somehow get there. Awesome that it’s in Chicago. Crappy that our hosts have the home court advantage and their best players are usually available. Awesome that it’s in Chicago. Crappy that it is somewhat difficult for us to get a full 8 man team together – a requirement if we essentially want to win the thing for a change. Awesome. Because. It’s. In. Chicago.

The format is simple enough. Each club provides 8 players – two A’s, two B’s, two C’s and two D’s. They play against the other players of the same level from the opposing clubs. The club whose player’s perform the best overall, would be declared the winner (in the case this year, each match was 3 games to 11; each game won was worth 1 point). The 2019 event had 3 competing clubs: U Club of Chicago (UCC), Toledo, and the DAC. Each player would get 4 matches.

Not counting last year when we hosted the event and therefore it was easy enough to put together a full team, for the first time since 2013 (!!), the DAC managed to fill the 8 man squad. That’s an achievement in itself. I do have to admit that it is considerably frustrating the difficulty we seem to have to find ‘A’ players that are willing to travel. It may sound like I am picking on that group (well… I am) but we do not have any trouble filling the spots in the other levels. In fact, we usually get more players willing to go that is needed. For some reason, the A players have little to no interest. We did have a full team this year, but our two ‘A’ players were in reality ‘B’s and were willing to step up in order for us to compete. A big ‘thank you’ to Colin Bayer and Greg Allare for their sacrifice.

Colin actually went above and beyond the call of duty. He sustained a rather nasty injury on his left hand just the weekend before and it would have been more than understandable if had decided not to play. But he is a trooper. He rubbed some dirt on it, sucked it up and battled through. Although, he has now earned the nickname “Buster” (Arrested Development) which is of course hilarious.

I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of success from our ‘A’ players, it was going to be tough going for them against the super-duper-mega-strongmen from the U Club of Chicago (2019 DAC Classic Doubles A winners Zac Archer and Dave Adams) and the formidable dynamic duo from Toledo, Rich “Stretch-Armstrong” Effler and Audrey “No-one-Puts-Baby-In-A-Corner” Berling.

However, Colin came out of the gates like a house on fire in his first game against Zac, who had no idea what hit him. Using the frame of his racquet to perfection, Colin hit a handful of unwitting winners leaving Zac wide-eyed and in awe… and me cleaning my ears out after I heard Colin had won the first game. It was true. One game into the competition and the DAC was in the lead. It was our one genuine moment of glory. A very short moment, but we lived it.

Zac settled in rather comfortably after that and wasn’t going to let Colin anywhere near a game point again. But we had struck a blow, and it was sweet! For the rest of the weekend, Greg and Colin put it all out there. Between them they won 3 games, which was very pleasing and I was thought they performed admirably. The matches against the Toledo pair were a lot closer and they truly could have picked up a win with a little more luck. Both of them should realize even more now how important consistent length is!

Playing in the B level for us was Brien Baker and David de la Torre. Dave had a pretty typical M.O. for all of his matches: Win the first game, take a decent lead into the end of the second, fight as hard as one can to avoid a heart-attack and keep the lungs in the inside of the body, see stars, lose 2 games to 1. Agonizing. He gets an A+ for effort, and with a fraction more fitness he probably could have won 3 or the 4 matches. (The one kid – junior - from the UCC was too good). He did get the one win, but had multiple opportunities in the other two with game balls but just couldn’t convert. Brien’s M.O. wasn’t as drastic. He had a couple of very tough outings, battled with his usual attacking boast (although not quite as regularly as what I expected) and his T-line short volley which proved to be irritatingly effective if you were his opponent. He ended up with three 1-2 losses and one 0-3 loss (again, no one could touch the UCC youngster!), we couldn’t have demanded more from him.

John Rogers and Ian Edwards took to the C level. Ian has had a reasonably strong season at the DAC this year and looked to be heading into Chicago with decent form. Unfortunately, that form somewhat abandoned him for the weekend and he did struggle to find his line and length. Not through lack of effort, but it just wasn’t happening for him. I’m not suggesting the results would have been different had he been playing to the level he is capable of, but the results absolutely could have been different. John on the other hand had the opposite M.O. to David de la Torre… Play the first game as if squash is a foreign entity, shake it off at the break, play normal in the second game and win it, get faster and fitter for the third game and crush the opponent, don’t stop smiling the entire way. John won all matches, and by the end of each one, was bouncing around the court like a 5 year old waiting for an ice cream cone at the store, while his opponent was dribbling (or crying, difficult to tell which) with wobbly knees searching desperately for a piece of floor to collapse onto.

John’s brother Jeff Rogers played in the D’s and just like brother John, Jeff just wants to run, run, run. Does he ever get tired? I don’t know. Impossible to tell. Probably not. Jeff’s opponents were also exasperated at the endless energy, which only seemed to increase the longer the matches went. Must be something in the water at the Roger’s household… Jeff dropped a couple of games for the weekend, a couple of his matches were actually very competitive. He kept cool though… does he ever get ruffled? Probably not either. That of course helps tremendously when under pressure one can keep their wits about them. Three of 4 wins, Jeff earned his stripes. Brian Ellison was the second D player and had himself a grand weekend. I expected him to do well and he didn’t disappoint.  Four for four, Brian dropped one game for which he was bitterly dissatisfied with and was (needlessly!) kicking himself for all weekend. (It didn’t change the final outcome!) But his intense play, determination on every rally, the occasional entertaining dive (notice I didn’t call it ‘graceful’) which always makes me wince since he does wear that knee brace and it can’t always end up good (right?), Brian muscled his way through taking top honors in his division.

From the get go, it was clear the DAC were not going to end up with the McQueenie Cup trophy. With the team that we had – a team that represented marvelously, fought valiantly from start to finish – without players that can compete to win in the A draw, there is no chance of victory. UCC won the event convincingly, over 20 points ahead of Toledo, where we ended up a proud third, just 6 points back. Congratulations to Chicago for another notch on their McQueenie Cup belt, and well done to Toledo who have now beaten us for the 9th straight episode. Thankfully, John Seidel was not present to rub it in. He is recovering from hip surgery and we all wish a full and quick recovery. We’ll get you next year!

Applause to the UCC itself and the organizer John Flanigan. I am truly grateful that he hosts, it’s a splendid club and the weekend went off flawlessly (we expect nothing less from John!), they treated us far better than what we deserve. Although, I do expect he does a better job with the weather. It snowed all day Saturday whilst we were there. Snow!
Me, Ian Edwards, Jeff Rogers, John Rogers, Greg Allare, Colin Bayer, David de la Torre, Brien Baker, Brian Ellison

And to our DAC team. Road trips such as these only strengthen the DAC squash family bond. Despite not winning the squash, once again we absolutely killed it off the court. This year, there was some restraint exhibited on the Friday night (which paid off for their Saturday squash!), and for the Saturday night we let our hair down (not me, I hardly have any), celebrated our awesomeness with high fives and fist pumps, punished our digestive systems with non-essential nutrients, and we all regretted it the morning… or not.

Friday, May 3, 2019


2019 DAC Singles Club Championships

April. One of my favorite months of the year. Winter is on its last legs, warmer days are sprinkled into the calendar to gently tease us for what’s to come, my wife clears away the bulky winter boots from the doorway (only to replace them with countless numbers of sandals… I mean how many pairs of feet do we have in the house?), every time I go outside I have to debate with myself for 5 minutes whether or not I should take a jacket, the Tigers are well on their way to treating us with another rebuilding year, the rabbits in our back yard are having a field day keeping the grass invisible… it’s a wonderful time!

It also indulges us with the DAC Club Championships! That one in-house tournament of the year that celebrates loudly all the winners, makes a party of the finals night and we congratulate ourselves on another successful winter season. So who propelled themselves into DAC immortality for 2019?

2.5 – Adam Who?
This year’s 2.5 bracket was the largest of all the categories, which is not all that unusual for this tournament. It’s also not that uncommon for many of the results to end up 3-0 given that there isn’t a lower division and the difference between the strongest 2.5 players and the lowest can be significant. Leading up to the final, we only had three results that extended all the way to a 5th game, although we did get a handful of 3-1 score lines.

Greg Jones was not a surprise finalist, but he was one of a few that I believed could get there. None of his matches were straight forward leading up to the final, he was a model of consistency winning all three of those contests 3-1. His quarter final was against Steve Murphy (who I had seeded second), a player that he – strangely – had never played before. You would think after many years of league and box ladders, they would have crossed paths at least once! A lefty, experienced, and a doubles player, Steve can be an awkward opponent, especially if you haven’t stepped on court with him. Greg was up to the challenge however, and managed to jump that hurdle. In the semifinal, he was battling Julie Vande Vusse, someone he had played before, so there was a level of familiarity. Of their 4 previous meetings, Julie could only claim one victory – back in February of 2018 – and the losses were generally close. Julie also reached the semifinal last year of this tournament and was motivated to go at least one step further, but it wasn’t to be. Greg’s 4-set win put him in the final.

John Stelter was the front runner on the other side of the draw as the number one seed. He maybe a little… let’s say ‘wiser’ than his opponents that he met up with, but not too many can out hustle him. He did more than enough of that in his first two matches winning them 3-1 and 3-0 respectively. In the semifinal, he then met a wall in Adam McDowell. Who? As squash pro, I meet a lot of members. Impossible to remember all of them, but I generally have a pretty good beat on the squash players at least. Adam has been a part of our squash family for probably a year now (give or take) but plays at times I rarely see him. He could walk past me and I wouldn’t recognize him. That sounds bad, and I apologize to Adam for that. He took care of business against John - and like every other match before it – it was a 3-0 victory. Now at least I will get to know Adam a little better since he has to be here for the final and hopefully I will not forget what he looks like moving forwards! Nice to put a face to the e-mail.

McDowell v Jones. There aren’t any results between these two either, but my spidey-senses were tingling towards Adam this – he’s ranked higher on Sporty HQ. Picking up where he left off, Adam continued his 2.5 dominance, not exactly steam rolling Greg, but not giving him much wiggle room either. Another 3-0 victory for Adam completing a clean sweep of 3-0 matches through the draw. Greg didn’t play poorly, he was just beaten by the stronger player!

3.0 – Frost Ices Wilson
As I have mentioned before, we have had a small influx of young squash players this season that has dropped our average age of the court almost by half… Well, not quite that much, (unless you count the handball players…!) but they do look like they barely have started to shave and are a constant reminder of those days long since past when I was in my mid-twenties… when internet didn’t exist, mobile phones were a super luxury and (literally) the size of a briefcase, a car was considered ‘luxury’ if it was an automatic shift with electric windows and air conditioning, and Atari was the must-have game console. Simpler times. I digress.

Michael Wilson was one of eight 20-something year olds in the draw almost giving this bracket a junior tournament feel! It’s fortunate that we run this event over a month and give everyone roughly a week between matches, because for most of us we need the recovery. If this was all played within 2-3 days, the final may have looked rather different. Not for Michael though. He won his first match 3-0, then decided he preferred to add some excitement to the scores. His next 3 matches went the distance – all to 5 games – and no doubt he was loving every second of them. His semifinal win over Mike Ottaway was probably the biggest upset considering I had Mike as the top seed and he has the uncanny knack of finding ways to win in tight matches. Just means he’s a great competitor, but on this occasion, Michael Wilson was able to run it out reach the final.

My dark horse of the division was Matt Paradiso, barely out of high school, cool under pressure, never looks like he’s sweating. Matt reached the semifinal with 2 fairly comfortable victories, dropping only 1 game. His opponent would be Jeff Frost that on paper (according to Sporty HQ stats) should win 3-0. Jeff is significantly higher than Matt on the ranking, but Matt is moving up quickly so in this case, it’s a misleading view. That being said, Jeff did win the match, but it was 3-1, and Jeff was admittedly elated it didn’t head into a 5th game. He was spent, Matt was still probably warming up.

Wilson v Frost. I’m giving the nod to Jeff on this one, again basing it on more experience, and Jeff will be fresh going in. Similar to the comparison to Matt though, Sporty HQ has Jeff the heavy favorite, but again, Michael is moving up the ranks. I don’t think it will be all that easy. Admittedly, I don’t have any feedback on how this match went other than the score. I am going to presume it was a grand battle, littered with memorable rallies. Jeff won 3-0, taking one for the veterans!

3.5 – Can’t Miss Chris
Got to hand it to Rich Stimson. I think every single year since I have worked here, he has entered the 3.5 division and he has yet to win it. He has come close – almost broke the streak last year when he lost the final in 5 to Brian Ellison, and he was also just one win away from glory way back in 2009 when he lost the final to George Kordas. He is competitive by nature – something about redheads? – and this year he stormed through the first two matches 3-0 before almost stumbling in the semifinal against Michael Hanchett.

Mike had a great showing for this event. He scraped through his second round against Han Peng with an impressive (and appropriate) 5-set win. It wasn’t really an upset since Mike has beaten Han before, but Han does hold a slight edge on win percentage. He still does, but now it’s just by one… 7 to 6. Mike has never come up against Rich before, so it was new territory for the both of them. Rich scooted out to a 2-0 lead but Mike fought back to level it at 2 apiece. Rich, however, dug deep and pushed through the 5th to take the win and give himself his third bite of the 3.5 cherry.

In his way? Chris MacKenzie. He quickly turned himself into the favorite for this category (sorry, Rich!) as he carved his way through the draw, slicing and dicing, chopping and dropping, kicking and nicking all who dared stand in his path. That included the 3.5 champion from 2015 Josh Slominski in the semifinal who decided to reenter the squash arena just for fun after a long hiatus from competition. Josh is still no pushover, but Chris still managed to smash and crash his way past him and like all his other victims no one could manage to pick up a game.

Stimson v MacKenzie. Obviously, based on my last paragraph, Chris was my pick. Could Rich’s determination and drive be enough to finally get over the finish line? Ummm… no. It couldn’t. Chris is quick and in good shape, something that for us older players can be tough to deal with and Rich struggled to keep up with the pace of the game and the constant retrievals from Chris. It was a 3-0 win, and Chris will now step it up to at least the 4.0!

4.0 –  Brandon Continues to Rise
A decently competitive bracket that once again featured a sprinkle of younger players that are constantly improving. It makes it tough to place such players in the league because of the speed of their progress. They may be at the correct level when the league starts, but 3 to 4 weeks in they have already surpassed that standard and could be competitive one or two positions higher. Such is the case with Mario Ferrini and Brandon Tasco. Youth and athleticism is a fairly beneficial combination, plus they are playing multiple times a week which helps enormously.

Mario reached the semifinal but did it tough the whole journey. Two 3-1 wins to start off – one of them against the third seeded Scott Beals – and then in the quarter final he had to contend with the never-say-die efforts of Brian Ellison who is no stranger to, and not afraid of, diving for balls. Mario squeaked out the 3-2 win to reach the semifinal where he came up against one of his nemesis in Brandon Tasco.

Brandon had an easier run to the semifinal, dropping only one game. They actually have never played an official match against each other, but have practiced together often, Mario knew he was in for a tough time. But he played well and pushed the match to 4 games. Brandon gets to play the final, Mario should be pleased with a semifinal appearance.

The upper half of the draw was also closely fought. Another young rapid riser, Mack Gembis upset a couple of people along the way taking out Marc Lakin in 5 in round one and then the top seeded Brian Bartes in round two – also in 5 games. He was just a hair away from making 3-for-3 five-set wins but fell agonizingly short losing 12-10 in the 5th to John Perkins in the quarter final.

Brandon Tasco and Mike Petix
With the early departure of Brian Bartes, Mike Petix was suddenly the favorite to reach the final. Mike very nearly didn’t make it out of round 1 but he survived the scare – and the cross court drop shots, backhand flicks, and endless scurry of Phil Pitters to win in 5. A little easier from then on, Mike took John Mann 3-1 and John Perkins 3-1 and was now in the final.

Tasco v Petix. Tough one to predict. I’ll cheated a little here and looked up their head-to-head. It did surprise me a tad to see that Brandon holds a 5-1 lead in that category – but – all of his wins went the distance. Either 3-2 box ladder or 2-1 league score lines. So I’ll lean towards a Tasco win, but it’s with hesitation. Mike has a little more experience and has actually won a club championship title before – the 3.5 division in 2012. Once again though, the fresher legs of the youngster would prove to be the difference maker. The longer the match went, the more Mike was slowing down. Mike won the second game, but the work he was putting in to win any point was catching up to him. Brandon could sense the gradual decline, he was determined not to let Mike get his breath back. Brandon completes an impressive 2018-2019 season with a 3-1 win!

4.5 – Run, John, Run!
Where are all the 4.5 players? Shocked to see that just 4 players signed up for this one, maybe they were scared of the number one seeded David de la Torre? That’s easy to understand, I mean this international man of mystery has a thousand nick-names (aliases) so he has to be looked at a little cross-eyed, no? Could he be the inspiration behind the Austin Powers character too? Who knows?

Anyway, Dave’s semifinal went according to my brilliant seeding and he won it 3-1 over John Roarty to reach the final. The other semifinal had exactly the same score line and also stuck to my brilliant seeding algorithm. Second seed John Rogers took care of business against James Van Dyke and even though I didn’t watch the match, after seeing John play a bit recently, I would venture to guess he lost the first game here before getting his motor running to roll through the following 3. It was only the second time John had beaten James, he had lost 3 of the previous 4 match-ups but going on current form, this isn’t an upset.
David de la Torre and John Rogers

Rogers v de la Torre. I am making my forecast here based on recent, first-hand observations of both players. Sporty HQ tells me I should be backing David here as history lists him as having John’s number. Four wins in a row, and only one game dropped. But, this may come down to a fitness issue. If John can extend the rallies long enough – even if he loses the first and / or second game – he has a chance of wearing Dave down. So, I am going off on a limb on this one and predicting a little upset here with John Rogers taking the title.

Just like a Hollywood script, I was spot on. John lost the first game, decided he was now warmed up, cranked his legs into second gear and started to grind away. It was curious to see that the longer this match went, the bouncier John got. He was getting faster, and he could smell the blood in the water. Dave on the other hand was straining. Every consequent rally that little but tougher, a little slower off the mark, glasses needed that extra few seconds to clean, the shoelace needed adjusting. Fitness caught up to him in a big way and John was in for the kill. Finishing the match with a couple of nasty drops, John took the 4.5 title with a 3-1 victory!

5.0 – Blake makes it 4
Overall, the 5.0 would be the most difficult of all the categories to choose a winner. We had 12 registrations in the draw this year, 6 of which had – at some time or another – already won at least one club championship title (over various categories, including the 5.0). This group play and practice regularly together so they are familiar with each other’s games, nobody was a sure thing.

Five set matches were almost expected here, and two of the four first round matches delivered. Chris Van Tol 3-2 over Jay Bonahoom and Paul Ward 3-2 over Ryanhas-anyone-seen-him-lately?MacVoy. Chris survived another round as well, taking down JC Tibbitts 3-1 before meeting his match against the top seeded Andy Adamo in 4. Paul wasn’t so fortunate, he succumbed to the 2017 5.0 champion (and the 2016 4.5 champion; and the 2012 4.0 champion) Blake Ellis in his second match.

Tom MacEachern was seeded 3 and had a very difficult time against Brien Baker in his first match. Brien can volley with the best of them and if you aren’t consistently tight, you will find yourself running after countless volley-boasts into the front. Apparently, Tom ‘enjoyed’ that exercise and saw more of the front two corners than he has since his drop shot lesson with me. It was just enough to get over the finish line 11-8 in the 5th. So excited Tom was to win in 5, he wanted to try and repeat that effort with Blake. However, Blake also adores long, lung-busting matches and was delighted to oblige. 5 games. Down to the wire. Was it 12-10 in the 5th? Blake got the win and jumped into the final looking for his 4th DAC title.

Waiting for him was Andy Adamo, one of the six players in the draw that has yet to win a club championship title. Although he has been the bridesmaid 3 times. Andy only dropped that one game to Chris Van Tol in the semifinal to reach the final and seemed to be hitting a decent ball in preparation.

Andy Adamo and Blake Ellis
Ellis v Adamo. The reading of the tea leaves her? I’m taking Andy on this one. Why? Because one of Andy’s finals losses came at the hands of Blake in 2017 11-9 in the 5th. I am sure he still remembers that and by no means wishes to repeat it. Match history is not on his side however – Blake holds a commanding 8 wins to 2 losses against him. I think its Andy’s year though… Well, yikes! I got this wrong.

Blake started soundly in the first 2 games, quick on the ball and into the front, strong hitting. Andy, it seemed, looked somewhat flat. Although Andy has the skills to put the ball away, can display some silky touch – which he did at times – it was just too sporadic to make any dent into Blake’s game plan. It wasn’t long before Blake held a 2-0 lead. The third game changed around however, Andy kept a more controlled outlook and eliminated much of the unforced errors which – surprise, surprise – puts the pressure back onto the opponent. Blake started to find the tin more often, trying to be too exact rather than give himself a little margin. Andy took the third. But it was he wrote. The effort was too much to back it up for the fourth and Blake charged through the game, taking the match 3-1 and with it, his 4th club championship title.

Open – No Stopping Stefan
The biggest Open category we have had since at least 2005, of the 14 players in this draw, 10 of them have experienced club championship glory in the past. Only 3 of them in the Open division though. So it is without a doubt the strongest Open draw we have ever had. The past 4 years have flip-flopped winners between Jed Elley and Vikram Chopra but this year would be a different story.

With the addition of Stefan Houbtchev last summer, he slotted himself immediately as the one to beat, strengthening our highest division even more. Stefan comes off a strong junior career in Canada and before moving back to Windsor, spent the last 3 years at Western University in London, Ontario on their squash team competing solidly on what is a very good team. So he has the goods. And the youth. And the strength. And the youth. And the talent. And did I mention the youth?

The biggest question was not whether Stefan was going to reach the final, but who would he be playing – the most likely scenario answering that question would be the semifinal between Vikram and Jed. And it was. There isn’t a whole between the two. Prior to this semi, they had 10 results recorded, 5 wins apiece, and if you wanted to get into the nitty-gritty, Vikram overall had won 17 games to Jed’s 16. So you may as well flip a coin to see who would win on this occasion.

I was fortunate to catch a game of this match – the third one after Jed had taken a 2-0 lead. Vikram appeared a little sluggish but can be awkward to counter when he starts pounding the ball with his whippy technique. It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but the ball was flying everywhere and Jed had a little trouble finding a comfort zone. A few unforced errors cost Jed the game, Vikram was starting to mount a comeback. Or so it seemed. It was short lived. Even though Vikram held a lead into the 4th, Jed settled down and found the groove of the first 2 games to finish off the 4th and jettison himself into the final to square off with Stefan.

Jed Elley and Stefan Houbtchev
Houbtchev v Elley. I’m picking Stefan to take his first title. It’s no secret he is the favorite, but it will be interesting to see what Jed can do. Keeping Stefan on court for as long as he can would be a good start. It didn’t happen in the first game. Jed appeared a little nervous to start this match, he was a step or two behind the power hitting of Stefan and was a little shaky with his own strokes as well. 11-2 in just a few minutes, but he would pick it up in the second. Longer rallies which is the ticket, the two players showed the rest of us some impressive court coverage, what a good, deep lunge is all about, and how recovering to the ‘T’ should be performed. Some nice winners from Jed in this game, but overall Stefan was still the dictating force. 11-6. The third game was similar to the second. Jed would put up some decent resistance, again slot a couple of nice winners, but the constant pressure that Stefan imposes eventually overruns everything. The best rally was left until the last rally of the match, Jed had Stefan on a string from corner to corner, but shockingly flubbed the easiest of put-away volley winners to end it. 11-5. A magnificent performance from Stefan, our new Club Champion!

Congratulations to all the winners and finalists – you are the representatives for our 2020 Farris Cup team that will need to avenge the loss we suffered through earlier this year.

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