Tuesday, April 16, 2013


McQueenie Cup Apr 12-14

The odds were against us from the very beginning. Mainly because we were going into the 4th McQueenie Cup competition one man short. With the format of the event, having a 7-man team as opposed to an 8-man one makes it almost impossible to win. Even though our representation in the B, C and D level was rather sound, we lacked an A player. No offense intended to Eric Green who was a real trooper and “took one for the team” as he agreed to step into that level as our sole ambassador even though he should have been playing in the B’s. We needed bodies on the court and he obliged.

This event is hosted by the impressive University Club of Chicago (UCC). Their court center is 11 stories up overlooking Lake Michigan. Needless to say, the surroundings were very comfortable. It’s an ideal location because, simply put, it’s Chicago. The easy – if not mind-numbingly boring – 4 hour drive away was made a little more interesting with the company involved, and the slick driving skills of Brien-there’s-plenty-of-room-to overtake-Baker.

The drawback of having to play in Chicago is that they get automatic home-court advantage. The UCC have a remarkably deep pool of players to choose from. Considering they didn’t have to travel, most of them were no doubt readily available. They were strong – very strong – at all four levels. Seeing that no other club really had a shot of winning, my main focus then turned to beating Toledo. They had eight players. It would be great to end up second with only seven. Could we do it?

The fourth competing club was the Union League Club of Chicago (ULC). Unfortunately they could only field a six man team – so they certainly had no shot of claiming the trophy. 

Eric Green and Jeff Sawin

I’ll start with Eric. As I mentioned, he was stepping up a level and on top of that was the only player in the event that had to play 4 matches instead of just 3. The A draw was a five-man round robin, but players from the same club were not to play each other.  Furthermore, he was scheduled to play the UCC number one player, Jeff Sawin, first up. It was a tough way to kick off, Jeff frolicked through the entire event winning every match 3-0 playing virtually at half pace.

But Eric improved with every match. His second encounter was against Toledo’s Nick DeMarco. Nick was also stepping up to the A level from the B’s so this match-up was a lot more competitive. An awkward style, Nick plays a lot of short-swinged “pushy” drop shots that continuously stretched Eric to the front of the court. It was one of the best matches of the weekend as they went toe-to-toe for 5 games with Nick eventually squeezing out the final game 12-10. Two more matches on the Saturday, Eric went down 3-0 in both, but made his opponents sweat it out. If he wasn’t already sore from Friday’s battles, this certainly would have him figuring out a new way to walk. A special thank-you to Eric – great warrior spirit!

The B draw was the closest of the weekend. We could easily have had 2 finalists here, a couple of points either way could have made the difference. Anthony Fracchia drew UCC player Matt Singer first round and we were in for another grand hour of squash. Anthony’s undoing in the end was unforced errors. Not too many, but more than his opponent’s!  It was by no means a bad loss – it would have been an excellent win – but the 2-3 loss pushed him to the consolation side of the draw. He won his next match 3-1 and then for the 5th and 6th play-off he played Fateh Ahmed from Toledo. Fateh received a forfeit for his previous match, and was clearly fresher than Anthony. And it proved to be the deciding factor as Anthony suffered through another 5-set loss. He ended up 6th.

Derek Aguirre won his first match 3-1 to advance to the semi final where he played the other UCC representative Shubham Bansal in what turned out to be another epic battle. And somewhat bizarre. Shubham started off the match playing perfect squash. Error free. He won the first game 11-0 with Derek not quite finding his rhythm or touch. And it continued on for the second. Shubham was 5-0 up before Derek won his first point. At that point I had to laugh because when Shubham lost his first rally after winning the first 16, he got angry at himself. Did he really expect to win 33-0? That tiny crack in the armor was all it took. The game changed. Unforced errors started to roll off Shubham’s racquet and Derek won the 2nd and 3rd. A more even match evolved at the start of the fourth and Shubham steadied the sinking ship. Great long rallies. Desperate retrievals. The fifth game was inevitable and frankly the match deserved to have one. Both players also deserved to win, but we all know that can’t happen. At least we had a tie-break. Match-balls were earned and saved on both sides before Derek fell just short at 14-12. The loss put him into a match for 3rd place, a match he lost 3-1 to ULC’s Milan Krakta. Energy may have had something to do with that.

Our most successful showing was in the C draw. Paul Ward stormed through his first 2 matches 3-1 appearing to gather rhythm and confidence with each outing. In the final he met up with Rutwik Kharker from the UCC (where else?) who could hit a mean ball with significant power. Paul’s game plan was to simply keep the ball in play. Don’t be fancy because Rutwik also had the tendency to go for winners and tin out. After losing the first, Paul’s tactic almost paid off. He worked very hard in the 2nd and 3rd taking them both to a tie-break. Unfortunately he lost them both.

Brien Baker lost to Rutwik in the semi final 3-1 after winning round 1 also in 4 games. Another too-many-unforced-errors result Brien couldn’t find the right balance of good length and the attacking volley after executing that tactic well in the first game. He then moved onto the 3rd / 4th play-off where his take no prisoner attitude against Toledo’s Neil Garrison saw Brien stomp all over him 3-0.

In the D draw, Elliot Shafer lost his first round to UCC Chris Nazaruk. The match could have easily been mistaken for a C match, quality squash was on display from both players. A little lack of experience from Elliot cost him but it was a great performance. Some impatience, knowing when to play that defensive length, Elliot will find events like this invaluable for his squash. He lost 3-1 to drop to the consolation where he won his next match 3-0 and the 5th / 6th play-off 3-2.

Sante Fratarcangeli was the fashion highlight of the event when he rocked up on Saturday morning with extremely deafening pink shorts. The shorts regrettably didn’t seem to faze his more experienced opponent Wade Judge (UCC). We all know Sante is competitive, this guy is in the same boat. Very clever player – great defensive strokes with slow, high rails that die in the back, surprisingly fleet of foot for someone of his veteran skill, and obviously reads the ball well. Sante was in for a tough one. I’m not sure who gets the prize for the loudest battle cry during the match, but Wade ended up with the spoils of all 3 games. The match was closer than the 3-0 suggested. For the record, Wade also won the final. Sante rebounded from that loss to take the 3rd / 4th play-off match 3-1.

Clearly, UCC won. Six of their 8 players reached the final of their division. The DAC and Toledo were playing for second place. It was close. Oh, so close. We could taste it. Feel it. Smell it. But it wasn’t to be.
Final scores:
  1. UCC – 160 points
  2. Toledo – 104
  3. DAC – 102
  4. ULC – 70
2 points!! It was an admirable effort. I am very proud of all seven players. Everyone put in 100% and we cannot ask for more than that. Everyone supported each other. And everybody socialized… as you should when one is in Chicago.

I believe next year’s event will also be in Chicago (hopefully). I don’t know the exact weekend, but sometime in April. Even if you are not part of the 8-man team, this would be a great road-trip to join us.

Left to right: Brien Baker, Elliot Shafer, me, Sante Fratarcangeli,
Derek Aguirre, Paul Ward, Eric Green

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