Thursday, April 14, 2016

The McQueenie Cup Crusade

McQueenie Cup, April 8-9

It’s Chicago. Apart from the most godawful 4 plus hour drive that exists in the US highway system, on a road that could be mistaken for a Syrian bombing target despite having to pay over $7 in tolls one way once entering Illinois (what are we paying that for... not to fix it, that’s obvious), through snow, sleet, rain, and avoiding the onslaught of drivers that clearly believe the laws of physics do not apply to them as they rocket past you at German Autobahn speeds inches from your side view mirrors, the McQueenie Cup is a must play event because... well, because it’s Chicago.

Once again, John Flanigan from the University Club of Chicago hosted this fine tournament that features clubs from the mid-west battling over a silver trophy named the “McQueenie Cup”, baptized as such after one of the most admired mid-west Athletic Directors of years past - Jim McQueenie. And what a fine host John is. Food, drink, social, drink, more food, drink, more social, and the reason we come: squash.

The DAC is yet to claim this trophy and this year the odds of us changing that trend were close to zero. Not because of who was on our team, but because we couldn’t manage to field a full team. With only 7 players of the 8 needed, we really had no shot. Disappointing for sure, but we tried nonetheless and actually performed rather admirably.

Brien Baker, Colin Bayer, Audrey Berling, Chas Bayer, Josh Slominski, Chris Van Tol. (Missing is Peter Logan)
Let’s start from the top category and work our way downwards. Each club were allowed 2 representatives in each of the 4 levels - for the A draw, we only had one. Peter Logan. And as luck would have it, his first round could not have been any worse. It wasn’t that he played poorly, because he didn’t and that took his opponent - Nick Marks from Columbus - by surprise.  Nick was by far the strongest player in the draw as all his breezy 3-0 wins would indicate, but Peter did make him hustle a bit and caught him flatfooted a few times with some unorthodox winners and angles. Peter then dropped to the back draw and played Toledo’s Rich Effler. Rich is a runner and can lunge out to almost 180 degrees which makes the people watching flinch just a little, and Peter needed to be vigilant. He held a 2 games to 1 lead, and then played an almost perfect 4th game - an 11-1 mauling made up of great set-up length and finished off with some ridiculous drop shot winners. I say ‘almost’ perfect, since the one point he lost that game came from an unforced error that would have been a winner had it not found the tin. Not too much later, Peter had to play against another Effler brother - Andy - for the 5th / 6th position. Andy, however, smelled blood as Peter was struggling to keep up - he was gassed. Andy was in no mood to be merciful, and took the 3 games.

The B draw. Brien Baker was panicking before every match. He was fearful that he would embarrass himself since he hadn’t been playing much leading up to this event. He gave himself about 15 minutes per match before hyperventilation would kick in, stars would appear above his head, and knees would buckle. He certainly underestimated himself. The embarrassment was nowhere to be seen (except at the bars later on!) and surprising us all he won his first match 3-2. He had no idea how he had achieved it and luckily by the time 10am Saturday morning came around for his second match, he still hadn’t figured it out. So, in typical fashion, he won 3-2 again. Shocked, he was in the final. But, he had plenty of time to think things over before that started and maybe he thought a little too much. The air had escaped from his balloon. His opponent was tough - Fateh Ahmed from Toledo was solid. Brien, however, could not find the form of the first 2 matches and unfortunately lost the rhythm. Fateh took the match 3-0. 

Chris Van Tol was our other soldier in the draw. Chris also found it difficult to get any type of feel for his game and consequently his length was too often too short and too loose. A recipe for disaster against any player, playing from behind is generally not a successful tactic. Chris lost his first match 3-0, but did redeem himself in his second match by winning it 3-2. It was certainly an improvement on his first effort but I still felt there was plenty of better squash left in him for the 5th / 6th play-off. Regrettably, it wasn’t to be his weekend. A slew of ‘could-haves’ and should-haves’, Chris, not for lack of effort, went down swinging 3-1.

C draw. Two solid horses in the race here, either one of them had a decent chance to reach the final. Josh Slominski started his campaign on the right foot albeit a little shaky. He knew the right game plan he had to implement, but his opponent had an awkward style and made executing that plan all the more difficult. But persistence paid off and Josh got through 3-2. His next match would be tougher, but was unmistakably doable, and he went in rather confident which helps. Alas, even though he was feeling good on court, his racquet wasn’t cooperating. His length suffered, too many cross courts missing the mark and it was a frustrating morning. The 3-0 loss was bitter but he would need to get his mind back on track for the 3rd / 4th playoff. He did well to pick himself up and improved on the previous result to win 3-1.

I’ve played Colin Bayer regularly on the Challenge-the-Pro court to know how much he can hustle. I was quietly confident he could do well here, his awkward style could throw a few people off their game. Like a bull in a china shop, Colin ‘Tasmanian Devil’s’ himself for a while, builds a lead, but then has the habit of taking the foot off the gas a little and lets his opponent catch-up. He could have won his first match 3-0, but instead - and surprisingly - he failed to win any of the games. He was then more consistent for the second match and took it 3-1 before tackling Josh’s first opponent for the 5th / 6th playoff spot. Having seen this guy play already, the strategy was pre-set. Colin carried it out effectively and beat the fellow 3-1.

D draw. Chas Bayer started his first match in style. Not a good style, in fact it’s a style that we could all do without: He served it out. Ouch. Even worse, it was captured on video... (thanks brother, Colin!) It kind of set the tone for the rest of the match as well and Chas admitted afterwards that he was very disappointed with the result. A few beers later, he was still bummed out but miraculously felt better anyway. Which was bad news for his next morning’s opponent who tried as much as possible to shield his shots from Chas’ efforts to reach them. Chas zig-zagged enough to take the match 3-2. It was a lot of energy expended and for the 5th / 6th play-off he couldn’t keep up that intensity. He lost it 3-0.

Our newest young talented member joined our team in the last minute. Audrey Berling is 15 years old and very smooth on court. Strong hitter, good reach, and the advantage of a youthful vigor - she doesn’t (can’t) do what we older (less intelligent) counterparts do and pretend we can drink without consequence and claim that sleep is well overrated. Audrey had little problem dispatching her first opponent 3-0 and was looking good. But, every day is a new one, and the following morning wasn’t as stellar. Like all of us, we strive to be more consistent and we wish we could be at our best at all times. Audrey didn’t appear to be as sharp, a little flatfooted off the mark. Her opponent didn’t have a lot of shots to hurt her, but he kept the rallies going and that was effective enough for this particular occasion. Audrey went down 3-1, found herself in the 3rd / 4th playoff and, like Josh, needed to get her mind back on the job. She did. A solid turnaround, this result was never in doubt as she rolled off all 3 games.

In the end, the DAC finished third. An expected result considering we were one man down. Congratulations to Toledo for winning the weekend and taking their 3rd McQueenie Cup victory. And they won it easily. When 6 of your 8 players reach the final, good things happen. In second place - and 40 points behind them - was the University Club of Chicago. We were 12 points back from them, but if we did have our second A player, I think we may have changed that. Columbus - in their first voyage to the event - came fourth.

Next year we may have a little more luck with not just fielding a full team, but winning it - we may be hosting. But it was another wonderful weekend of Chicago and a huge thank you goes out to the club and John Flanigan. And a huge thank you to the DAC members as well who made the effort to travel. It was definitely worth it -

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