DAC Squash Classic Feb 5-8
The weekend is long, the weekend is a lot of work. But the weekend is one of my favorites of the year. Even though I fantasize about sleep by the time Sunday rolls around, I truly love the fact that I get to spend all that time with our squash members and visitors that come back year after year. The tournament ends up running itself more and more, a luxury I am privileged to have.
Numbers speak for themselves. The singles capacity was reached in 13 days and the doubles 1 day later. The hotel rooms were booked out even before registration was opened. London brought 31 players. For the first time we had players from Sarnia and Chatham and if you count Srini who really is from London he made the effort to travel from New Orleans, and our beloved ex-member Ken MacDonald flew up from Denver. The Saturday dinner / dance had over 170 people, the dance floor was packed right up until the live band ended, and it was the only way to stop Dan Van Moorsel from busting his moves!
DAC success came in many forms on the squash courts. It seems our players are ‘toughening’ up and pulling through more pressure situations than ever before. I was very proud of how our members performed this year, a few unexpected results and upsets and we did pick up some hardware in all but 2 of the 10 categories. Every category has it’s own story to tell. Let’s start this year with the Doubles…
Doubles C~ As we all know, typically the outside invasion truly takes over the doubles court for the weekend and the DAC members struggle to keep up. A DAC team has not won a doubles category at the Classic since 2006, the Canadians tend to dominate and they always seem to manage to send new faces every year that take control. But this year’s C draw was a different scenario. Eight of the 16 teams were DAC based, and my money was squarely on one of our pairs to take the title. Who it was, however, was unexpected.
After round one, 6 of our 8 teams had survived and the odds were looking more and more in the DAC’s favor. Shail Arora and Tom MacEachern had the biggest scare against Dave Hornby and Herb Funkenhauser (Windsor) as they decided to make it as exciting as possible. Why not win 15-14 in the 5th and get your money’s worth? Even though the exhilaration of such a close win is impossible to beat, they wanted no part of it in the second round and won that 3-0 instead. Their 8am Sunday morning semi was against Andy Housey and Rich Stimson. Andy and Rich controlled a 2-1 lead after three games, but Shail and Tom started to exploit the front court more and more and exposed their opponents movement forward. It was a tense 4th and 5th game but well spirited. Shail and Tom completed the comeback to win 3-2 and move on to the final.
Meeting them there was Dane Fossee and Joey Gaylord. They had an easier run through the draw winning every match 3-0, including a white-wash against Patrick Petz and Mike Petix in round 2, a surprise result. Going into the final they certainly earned the ‘favorite’ tag based on those results.
Which of course means nothing. Shail and Tom enjoy winning in 5 games so much that anything less than that was not an option. In fact, I am sure they would have played best of 7 or 9 games if allowed. It was a terrific final and the longer it dragged out, the less it favored Joey and Dane. Joey admitted afterwards that he was exhausted and covering the front corners by the end of the match was not happening. Tom and Shail took the final 3-2 and the DAC earned its first doubles title in 9 years.
Doubles B~ Our presence in the B draw was minimal. Only one pair that consisted of 2 DAC players – one of which was injured and then 2 other DAC members who were paired up with out-of-towners. The bracket looked strong. I had Mike Counsman and Paul Gebrael (Windsor) seeded one, they had won this category before, and Jim Austin and Chris Beresford (Franklin) seeded two, who in years past have played the A draw. As these events always seem to prove, my seeding was way off. Both of these teams lost their first match. By the time the semi finals were set, our lone surviving member in the draw was Bill Oddo. Bill stepped in to play with Toronto’s Aly Somani after his partner withdrew ill, the two met for the first time about 10 minutes before their round 1 encounter – a match they won 3-2. Obviously getting used to each other quickly, the pair won the second round 3-1 and also the semi final 3-1 against a tough pairing from London.
Their finals opponent were the Daddy and Son team in Konstantin and Stefan Houbtchev from Windsor. They made fast work of their round 1 opponents, took care of the dancing machine Dan Van Moorsel and partner Rory Bradd 3-1 in the second round and then cleaned up Londoners Marcus Plowright and Tom Panabaker 3-0 in the semi. On paper, I was thinking the Houbtchev’s were looking the goods over Bill and Aly.
Once again, however, my prediction is the kiss of death. Bill and Aly had to be at the top of their game and they were. Steady enough – barely – to wait for the errors from their opponents and weather the storm from Stefan’s racquet. They couldn’t have cut it any closer. The 15-14 in the 5th win was certainly a result that surprised many.
Doubles A~ It’s almost a foregone conclusion. When Jon Uffelman (BAC) and Mark Eugeni (Windsor) pair up, it looks like everyone else is playing for second. They won this event in 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2009, and were finalists in 2010. That loss was at the hands of Rob Doherty and Caleb Quinlan (London) who are also always a threat to win, but somehow most of the time, fall short. This year, Rob and Caleb really should not have even been in the final at all. For the first time in… ever (?), Peter Logan and Kirk Haggarty teamed up. A match-up that should have happened long, long, ago and a match-up that worked very well together.
Peter and Kirk won their first match 3-1 before lighting it up in the semi final with Rob and Caleb. They dominated the first 3 games, winning the first 2 and then holding 3 match-balls in the 3rd at 14-12, only to falter for a brief moment and not capitalize. It was costly. Rob and Caleb scraped the 4th game to force the 5th. Point for point, the two teams were back and forth all the way deep into final stanza. Nothing really separated them, and in a stunning move when the DAC team was 14-12 up, Kirk conceded. No one really knew what was happening, but it turned out Kirk had picked up an injury early in the 5th and he knew that there would be no way he would have able to play the final later that day. Still managing to take the game to the brink, in a great show of sportsmanship, they allowed the Londoners to pass through to tackle Mark and Jon.
And tackle they did, but not quite hard enough. It often looks like Mark cruises around the doubles court just content to play along in the rally until he decides he’s had enough and then pulls out his bazooka and cannons the ball out of nowhere to end the point. Mark and Jon won 3-1, their 5th DAC Classic title.
Singles 2.5~ Full draw this year with 32 players. Almost 80% of them were DAC members, so it was no surprise that we overshadowed the draw. Before I get to the winners, I would like to mention 2 stand outs in this category. Both of these members did not have very high expectations going in, but both of them surprised themselves (and me!) with their efforts.
Firstly Haytham Hermiz. Just through pure athleticism, his speed and retrieval ability caused multiple headaches for his opponents. Glen Milligan was his first victim and then Ian Edwards was on the receiving end in round 2. Eventually, Haytham lost in the quarter final to Josh Gershonowicz 3-1… a loss you will read later on, is hardly a bad one.
Secondly Dino Ricci. Another tenacious fighter, not too many try harder on the court than Dino. And Dino did it the hard way. A first round 11-9 in the 5th win over Mike McCuish, was followed up by an 11-8 in the 5th win over Bruce Shaw, and backed up with a 3-1 win over Colleen McDougall (London) in the quarters. No one was more astonished to reach the semi final than Dino, where he still performed admirably but went down in 4 games to Eric Scheible.
The dark horse of the event came from Chatham. Ken Bechard hit a clean, strong ball and reached the semi final with his good ball placement. His downfall is fitness, and in the semi, Josh Gershonowicz was able to run those sharp angles and tough lengths down enough to tire Ken out and take the match in an not-so-easy 3-0.
Eric and Josh have 2 results listed on the DAC ranking. Both have won one match each. The final could have gone either way. The two made themselves work hard for every point, hands on knees was a common between-rally resting stance. All that was missing from this match was a 5th game. Josh ended up the 3-1 winner, but both players should be proud of their weekend effort.
Singles 3.0~ Cue the terror of the 13 year old girl!! Sara Khan from Windsor is one fine young player. Perfectly behaved and remarkably calm on the court, she appeared to start her matches rather slowly but once she warmed up, turned into a squash fiend and sent shivers of dread down the spines of her opponents. Event the brute strength of a couple of our members couldn’t defend it. Colin Bayer was the first to fall to her, but it was close. 11-9 in the 5th was the score, and it also proved that Sara could handle the pressure situations well. She then had to confront John Mann, who knees could be heard knocking in fear hours before the confrontation. John started off like a bull out of the gate (appropriate description!) and raced off to a 2-0 lead. Sara then started to get her groove going and made John work hard. Again, she was the steadier player in the end and took the 5th game 11-8. In the semi, she would have to repeat her efforts. Matt Ran (BAC) ran and ran and ran for all 5 games. Matt was coming off a 13-11 in the 5th quarter final win and unfortunately for Sara, he kept on running and this time she fell just a couple of points short – 8-11 in the 5th. Next year, we’ll probably see Sara in the 4.0 at least..!!
On the other side of the draw, JC Tibbitts was on a tear. He has been improving consistently over the past few months, playing a lot and scoring some good wins along the way. He was going to be tough to beat in this category and his run to the final was somewhat easier than Matt’s. His semi final was against the 2.5 winner Josh Gershonowicz - a surprise that Josh reached that far, but credit to his form over the weekend. Matt put up great resistance against JC, but I think the accumulation of the previous 2 matches caught up with him and he ran out of steam. JC earned the 3-1 victory.
Singles 3.5~ Probably the most unpredictable category on paper, the 3.5 had many players in the draw that on any given day could walk away the winner. I’ll start here with the tournament’s marathon man. He certainly doesn’t look like a marathon man, but Justin Jacobs wanted to squeeze out every ounce of his entry fee as far as possible. If maximum court time was his goal, he achieved it hands down. His round 1 win was against Tom Giftos - a DAC member who hadn’t played a squash match in years but decided to enter the tournament anyway. It was a wonderful match, Justin got by 12-10 in the 5th, Tom is no doubt still sore today. Justin moved on to beat Rich Stimson in 5 in round 2, and then take out Mike Petix in the quarter final 11-8 in the 5th as well. He lost the semi to Londoner Glen Davies, in a shockingly disappointing 4 games. We must also mention here that Justin played the 4.0 draw as well - he won that first round against Paul Huth 11-8 in the 5th, before losing round 2 to Ken MacDonald in... you guessed it - 5 games. He played a total of 6 matches, and played 29 games out of a possible 30... not a bad effort!
Regrettably for Justin, there isn’t a prize for most games played, just for the finalists of the category! Glen Davies final opponent was against one of our better court scramblers - Bob Rogers. Bob earned is spot winning all of his matches 3-0. I wasn’t surprised that he reached the final, more at his opponents who had caused a couple of upsets along the way. Glen’s game is quite consistent and he moved Bob around the court well. He was prepared for Bob’s ‘get-the-ball-back’ tactic and steady enough overall to take the final in what ended up as a tough 3-1 result.
Singles 4.0~ Meet Avinash Gali. (Or ‘Avi’). Avi is new to squash. He plays out of Life Time Fitness in Troy, and picked up a racquet for the first time 12 months ago. So what on earth is he doing playing the 4.0?? Well, simply put - he’s winning it. Oh, it wasn’t easy. Avi had to overcome the experienced and crafty Anis Khan (Windsor) in the second round which through pure grit he did 12-10 in the 5th. His youth and speed also saw him through the semi final against another veteran Marcus Plowright from London 3-1. Meeting him in the final was last year’s 3.5 Classic winner Mitchell Werner - another young up and coming player that seems to have endless energy and enjoys running as fast as humanly possible. Mitchell and Avi have similar styles, and the match was accentuated with long rallies and solid hitting. Strangely, even though Avi was the lesser experienced, he displayed more patience than Mitchell and was the steadier of two. The 3-0 score line was not indicative of the closeness of the match.
Now all that is left for Avi is for him to join the DAC... what do you think, Sante?
Singles 4.5~ Speaking of Sante, it’s amazing I’ve written over 2,500 words and not mentioned him once! But he shined in the 4.5 category and continues to show that if you work hard on your game, that persistence pays off. Round 1 he got through Rob Roy (Windsor) 3-2 after being down 2-0. For me, that was the most impressive win of the event for him. Sante has improved mentally just as much as he has physically. Every opponent he faced was tough, and he lowered his head, prepared himself to work hard and fight through the pressure. He won his next 3 rounds 3-1 to find himself in the final.
His final’s opponent? A women. London’s Laura Savage is a very smooth player and can crack the ball just as hard and cleanly as any man. And her footwork matches her stroke. If you give her any time and / or space in the front corner, she will punish you. Laura’s toughest match was her second round against Aaron Stilson (London) where she won 11-8 in the 5th, every other match was 3-0.
Against Sante, Laura played the right game. She took advantage when Sante was loose, and defended nicely when he was not. Just an all round sound performance, Laura was clearly the better player over the weekend, she won the final 3-0 and admitted afterwards that she played well over expectations... Timing is everything!
Singles 5.0~ For a change, I got the seeding correct on this one! Seeded 1, Seth Rogers (BAC) - as awkward a technique that he demonstrates that still is predominantly tennis - is one tough cookie. Very quick, (and also very colorful to the point he would give Sante a run for his money in the fashion stakes!) Seth’s two handed backhand can create havoc for his opponents and even for himself. More often that not, however, his opponents can’t quite figure out how to deal with it. Seth got through all preliminary rounds 3-0 to reach the final, untroubled for the most part.
The DAC saw some success on the bottom half of the draw. Derek Aguirre got through round 1 comfortable enough 3-0, then played an excellent match in round 2 against Dan Van Moorsel (Chatham) to win that 3-2. Derek’s Achilles heel, though, is his consistency. He couldn’t reproduce the same form in the semi final against Toronto’s Aly Somani, and fell to him 3-0. Not taking anything away from Aly - he is a very good player and even if Derek played up to the same level, the 3-0 result may not have changed.
Scheduling was the enemy for Aly on this occasion. It’s what happens when you play 2 categories, time between matches may be non-existent. Aly had to play the 5.0 final against Seth the moment he stepped off court from the Doubles B final that went 15-14 in the 5th. But he put up a valiant effort. Seth was not taking any prisoners, and being merciful isn’t quite his on-court personality and he tortured Aly for a 3-1 victory. Aly’s prize was a 5 hour drive back to Toronto in freezing rain. He got back safely.
Singles 5.5~ Hail the veteran! Mark Eugeni (Windsor) has very dangerous hands. Those hands can leave your knees buckled and jaw dangling. Just ask Derek Moore (London). Derek scraped past Seth Rogers 11-8 in the 5th in the first round before tackling Mark and his Magic Racquet in the semi final. Derek played marvelous squash for 99% of the match, and was on the brink of a huge ‘upset’ when he was 9-6 up in the 5th, 2 points from the victory. Do or die for Mark, he decided his only solution to his dilemma was to hit winners. Five rallies in a row, Mark slotted the ball in the nick (as you do) leaving Derek (and the crowd) in awe. Nothing you can do, but applaud.
Brad Hanebury (London) also reached the final after winning his first match 3-0 and then taking out our club champion Jed Elley 3-1 in the semi final. Brad and Mark have played 3 times in this final before. Brad has won all 3, 2 of them were down to the wire in the 5th. This year’s version was just as exciting. And somehow, Mark (at the ripe old age of 43!) kept up. Wonderful deception, anticipation, Mark moved the younger Brad around beautifully. Even as the match extended deep into the 5th, it was Mark who looked calmer and in control. He took the tremendous final 11-8 in the 5th!
As we take a deep breath and reflect on the success of the tournament, a special thank you must be offered to all of our corporate sponsors - their support is a vital ingredient to the tournament. I also would like to thank the DAC staff for all of their assistance, and to all the players that continue to turn up year after year!
360 days and counting until the next DAC Classic. I should be well rested by then.