Friday, May 6, 2016


2016 DAC Singles Club Championships

“Lights, cameras, beer, squash, and… Action!” You know it must be an important night on the Blackballer calendar because it’s one of very few that forces me to wear a suit. Even though I feel smothered and awkward, wondering why knotting some cloth around one’s neck is considered fashionable, the Club Championships night is one of the best of the year: It’s the one opportunity to witness the best players of each category in the one evening. It is also the perfect ending to what has been a cracker 2015-2016 season, best ever numbers on court and the highest participation level in this event on record. As we act like the Hollywood mega-famous and uber-privileged and take this occasion to stroke our oversized chutzpah, let’s celebrate the accomplishments of the 2016 DAC Club Champions!

2.5 – Olé! Señor de la Torre!
Well, this category couldn’t have been any more unpredictable. We had 37 hopefuls lining up, many well-known faces mixed in with plenty of first-timers that really had little idea of what to expect. One of those fledglings was non-other that the “Boo-Yah!” chiming, Batman promoting, perpetual smiling Dewey Steffen. Dewey is 1 year into his squash career, and certainly though no lack of effort – or talking – has performed quite soundly as his stats show he wins 76% of the time. Keeping up that appearance, Dewey went on to win his first 3 matches of the event – all in 4 games – only to lose his 4th. It was the semifinal and it also went 4 games. It was a little strange however, since Dewey won the first game of that match 11-0 only to lose the next 3. Maybe his opponent stopped listening to him? His opponent was David de la Torrewho?

David is very new to squash, in fact his first official matches ever were in the box ladders last month. But he has a racquetball background, and it didn’t take him long to figure things out. To get to the final, David had to win 5 matches – the toughest being against one of my (secret) picks for the title, Han Peng. Even David himself was surprised to get past Han as he won that encounter 3-2. Certainly a surprise finalist, and even though David didn’t know it, he would be playing that match against another, even more unanticipated opponent.

David de la Torre and David Zack
David Zack has been quite the silent achiever. Just like David d-l-T, David Z also had to battle through 5 matches just to reach the final. But it wasn’t easy by any stretch. The first 2 results were 3-0, but then a 3-1 win against Fred Minturn grabbed my attention a little, and the 3-2 victory against one of my other ‘secret’ choices to take it all – Pat Hughes – violently rattled my senses somewhat. So surely the semifinal would halt his dream run? That was against Julie Vande Vusse and although I always remain neutral for these events, (and no offense to David) I thought it would be rather neat to have a woman for a change in the final of the Club Championships. But David Z. didn’t see it that way and again, defying the book-makers, he took the match 3-2 and made his way to the final.

It was a very interesting final between the two Davids. The hard hitting Señor against the careful placement of Mr. Zack. At this level however, power is a huge asset and it is difficult to control the ball when it comes at you faster than what you can prepare your racquet! David d-l-T took control early and established the tone, pressuring David Z well. It was an all-round solid showing, and the 3-0 result was really never in doubt. Congratulations to David d-l-T, I’m sure he never expected to be crowned club champion if you asked him that 2 months ago!

3.0 – Brotherly Frenemies
Not since the famous McEnroe brothers of Patrick and John have we witnessed such a sibling rivalry in the sports arena. Or is this more like the sisterly arm-wrestle of Serena and Venus? Or maybe the I-make-funnier-commercials-than-you contest between Eli and Peyton Manning? Well, so long as this doesn’t end like Cain and Abel, what happens between Ryan and Zac MacVoy will only enhance the fierceness or their ever-mounting warfare.

There were 19 other players in this draw desperate to avoid a MacVoy v MacVoy final but the Squash Gods were too stubborn to let anything else evolve. Chuck Doyle did, however, almost upset the Deities which no doubt would have caused indescribable havoc and plagues across the lands, as he stretched Zac to 5 games in the quarter finals. Zac escaped the frightening close episode and then made sure of his advancement to the final winning the semi 3-0 against the top seeded Mike Rock, and thus appeasing the angered Creators and avoiding untold horribleness.

Ryan MacVoy’s biggest challenge would be his semifinal opponent against John Rogers. It wasn’t too long ago that John handed Ryan a 3-1 beat down during the Farris Cup event at the BAC. Evidently, the Squash Gods did not look favorably towards Ryan for representing our most ominous adversary! In fear of eternal damnation, Ryan served up John as a human sacrifice and carved him up 3-0, setting up the most anticipated 3.0 final in the history of club squash anywhere on the planet.

Zac and Ryan MacVoy
When these 2 stepped on court, Zac actually had the higher club ranking than Ryan – by 2 spots. And although they have ‘practiced’ together many times, only 2 scores have counted and both times Ryan was the victor by the slimmest of margins. We all waited for the cruel twists and turns the Squash Gods would dish out. We were not left disappointed. In the best and closest final of the night, the two brothers went at each other like republican presidential candidates on the campaign trail. Gloves were off. 1-game all... 2-games all… the sweat was flowing, the exhaustion was kicking in, the thoughts of uninviting the other from the Thanksgiving dinner was crossing their minds… 10-all in the 5th… it wasn’t letting up. And maybe Zac prayed to the Gods just a little harder, as he was rewarded for his servitude with the final 2 rallies and the freedom of being able to remind Ryan for the at least the next 12 months who is actually the superior squash player. Fantastic match, fellas!

3.5 – John the Show-Mann
Finally, John Mann decided enough was enough. Rather than just talk about how he should be beating “these guys”, he actually went out with the clear intention of doing just that and proving it. His timing for this epiphany was spot on – the first match of the Club Championships. John won the 2.5 category back in 2014 where he beat JC Tibbitts. Since then JC has risen through the levels and this year played the 4.0 category, with John feeling somewhat left behind. But no more.

Strong first couple of matches, he took care of business 3-1 in round one and then eliminated the number 1 seed Paul Van Tol 3-0 in round two. His greatest challenge came next in the form of Tom Fabbri. Tom had also dropped only 1 game up to this point and was riding a confidence wave that if he could remain consistent enough with, would spell trouble for John. Tom was close. And John had to work hard to fend him off. It wasn’t so much as luck but successful grinding that got John through the match 3-2, and maybe that touch-and-go win made him feel more relaxed for the semi. Bob Rogers was the next threat, but John was more than up for the contest. Probably his most impressive win to date, he defeated the human pinball 3-1 to earn his finals spot.

Standing in John’s path to glory was Brian Bartes. Like a good wine, Brian was getting better the longer the tournament took. Starts off a little bitter and offensive, but the more you indulge the more pleasant the relationship becomes. It was a rocky start to his campaign and Brian almost didn’t make it out of the starting blocks. Marc Lakin gave him all that he could handle and Brian grappled with himself to find any harmony in the game at all. Finally though, through grit and stubbornness, Brian weathered the storm for the 3-2 win. And now Brian was off and running. James Van Dyke did offer some resistance in the next round by snatching a game, but certainly not enough to derail the Bartes Express and then in the semifinal there was no stopping the momentum as Justin Jacobs found out, when the 3 games zipped passed him before he could barely react.
Brian Bartes and John Mann

It was a tough final to predict a winner. On paper, Brian would be favorite, but John has demonstrated he is more than capable of pulling it off. And it was another down to the wire result. John wasted no time in the first game and pounded himself to a quick lead which he held onto for a comfortable win. But Brian wasn’t fazed. It’s tough to ruffle his feathers, and he started game 2 with his head down and a renewed focus. It was strenuous work though, Brian covered a lot of court to take the next 2 games and that effort would take its toll. John was also tired, but on this occasion even though he could hustle just as much as Brian, he would miss the tin more often. Steadiness was the telling factor and John would end up taking the 5th game, picking up his second club championship title and advancing himself to the 4.0’s and above.

4.0 – No Worries, It’s Jason Currie!
We could easily have been talking about 2 different finalists for this category. All 10 players in this bracket were ranked between 30 – 44 on the club listing. Being so closely bunched together meant that anybody beating anybody wouldn’t really be considered a terrible upset, and only 3 of the 8 matches leading up to the final had a 3-0 score line. The only player that did not win 3-0 in the quarter final was Matt DiDio – the number one seed.

Matt is a walking medical surgical encyclopedia. He has gone under the knife more times than Kim Kardashian and has more scars on his body than Freddy Kruger, but keeps on chugging along like an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator machine. Dane Fosse was not able to stop his Judgement Day as Matt hunted him down with a 3-1 victory to move to the semifinal where he then did bump into a leader of resistance. Jason Currie (who also happens to have the same initials of ‘John Connor’ … coincidence…?!) earned his way to the semi by winning 3-0 over JC Tibbitts, and he and Matt battled it out with an epic 5-setter. It’s not easy to wear down the DiDio cyborg, but Jason is pretty well known for his scrambling abilities. It was a tough 3-2 win for Currie, but I’m sure – at some time – Matt will be back…

On the opposite side of the draw, Josh Slominski was looking at following up his 2015 success of winning the 3.5 club championship title with the 4.0 one. His first step to the goal was a solid one as he took down the wily Paul Huth 3-0. His second step, though, proved to be a lot more wobbly. Colin Bayer is one awkward customer, and can provide his opponents with a lot of unpredictability, many times even confusing himself. It can be either effective or inept. Josh has beaten Colin the last two times they had played – but never easily – and this one wasn’t either. For the first 2 games against Josh, Colin’s style was working. He took a commanding 2-0 lead and looked like he was about to turn the tables on Josh’s win streak against him. But suddenly, what was productive before, stopped being so. Colin slightly opened the door for Josh to get his foot stuck and he started to push his way through it. Clawing back, Josh took the next 3 games leaving Colin wondering how he let the cat out of the bag.

Josh v Jason for the final. Three results on the books for this match up, with Jason winning the most recent one 3-0, but Josh the previous two. These two also played off for the 3.5 final in 2015 where Josh won that 3-1, would this be Jason’s revenge? Two contrasting styles were on display, one technique smooth and straight, the other a little more chaotic and full of weird angles. And, often enough, that can be the trick to wining as it can keep your opponent off balance. Jason started the match strongly taking the first game only to have Josh bounce back and steady the ship with a well-adjusted second. But Josh’s consistency would be the death of him. Jason wasn’t going to slow down, or speed up, or change his approach. He kept to the script, and was able to control the front part of the court better. A reversal of last year’s result, Jason picked up his first title with a richly deserved 3-1 victory.

4.5 – Blake’s Big Break          
Going in as the number 1 seed for this category, Blake Ellis certainly held the advantage over his opposition. He has a winning record against everyone in the draw with the exception of Tom MacEachern and that is simply because they haven’t played each other in a league, ladder or tournament before. That isn’t to say he hasn’t lost to any these people before, he just wins more often than he loses. As fate would have it, Blake would have to play Tom in the semifinal for their first ever meeting.

Tom earned his way through with a confident 3-0 win over Mike Counsman. He would have to be very much on his game to give himself a chance to overcome Blake Ellis as well, as Blake is typically a steady and patient player and will not be outrun by too many opponents. The constant and steady play was too much for Tom to handle and Blake got through 3-0.

Getting through from the other side of the draw was Chris Van Tol. Chris has actually hit form just at the right time it appears, as he has recently been recording some impressive results in the box ladder with some wins over players ranked well above him. If the 4.5 draw was done after those ladder results, Chris would have been number 1 seed! A healthy start to his tournament, Chris won his first match 3-0 before taking out Mike LoVasco 3-1 in the semifinal.

Blake Ellis and Chris Van Tol
The Blake Ellis v Chris Van Tol match-up for the final does have a little history. These two are no strangers to playing each other, in fact it has been 6 times since last summer with Blake holding a 4-2 lead. They have also played each other in a club championship final before – way back in 2012 where again it was Blake getting the edge 3-1 in the 4.0 final. It is – for now – Blake’s sole title in this tournament. Chris also has a club championship win under his belt – he won the 2.5 level in 2007. The match was a tale of 2 halves. Chris dictated the first half, carrying on the form that got him to this position in the first place. It was difficult to see how Blake was going to get himself back in the match, and for the second half, he really didn’t anything much different. But Chris did. Not much, but just enough to let the momentum slip away. All it takes is a few ill-timed unforced errors, the doubt creeps into the mind, and suddenly the battle ground changes. Blake fought his way back to 2-games all, and the do-or-die 5th was up for grabs. Desperation, pressure, it all makes a difference. Blake would be steadier of the two when the final few points were on the line and he would take the game 11-8, earning his second club championship.

5.0 – Big Day for Sante                      
This would be another final that many people would be looking forward to. Of course, whenever Sante Fratarcangeli is involved, we all really have no choice but to take notice since he does make sure the word gets out. And even more so when the final is against the one opponent he plays more than anybody else: Andy Adamo.

Both Sante and Andy reached the final with relative ease. Between them they only dropped one game which although is not a shocking result, I did think they would have a little more resistance along the way. Since last summer, Sante and Andy have recorded 17 results, many of those simply challenge matches. Sante was won 11 of those, the most recent win recorded just 3 days before the final with Sante taking that one 3-1. No doubt a clever tactic to gain the mental edge. Another interesting statistic, is that of those 17 matches, only 2 of them ended up 3-0 (both to Sante). The final has a very good chance of being a close result. Motivation for Andy though – he has yet to win a club championship, and this would be an excellent time to grab one. Sante already has 3 singles titles and was going for his 4th.

Simply put, this was not Andy Adamo’s day. But, I really have to give Sante credit. He steps up well on big occasions. The pressure appears to lift him, and he frequently finds the extra gear to push himself through difficult situations. From the first rally, Sante was the alpha male on the court. Andy was really only reacting to Sante’s game which is too defensive to make any inroads towards victory. Sante can place another notch on his belt with his 4th club championship title, this one, a 3-0 assault. Next year, he will have to play on the Open, a challenge I am sure Sante is quietly relishing.

Open - Chopra’s Winning Opera        
And the one where the winners get to have their name forever displayed on the walls of the DAC, revered for all eternity, another addition to the treasured and exalted history. A history that Jed Elley is already a part of – twice. A history that Vikram Chopra has yet to make his name a permanent etching in these consecrated halls. Would that change this year?

Vikram was denied his chance of such accomplishment in 2015 when he went down to Jed 3-0 in the final. Determined not to let that happen a second time, Vikram powered his way through the draw taking no prisoners, showing no mercy, wanting to prove that he would be the man to beat, and pounded his opponents 3-0. Jed on the other hand had a little more trouble reaching the final as he had to contend with multiple club championship winner Peter Logan in the semifinal. The shrewd veteran gave Jed all he could handle taking the first game 15-13 before succumbing in the next three.

Setting up a repeat of the 2015 final, Jed and Vikram only have 1 recorded match since that date. It was back in December in the boasters league and it was Vikram taking that one 2-1. Both hard hitters, both players move well. The first game was more the two 'feeling” themselves out. “Establish length first” is what I tell people, groove your line, get your timing. I’m not terribly sure Jed and Vikram were all that concerned about any of that, it looked like they were more interested in scoring quick points. It was a little scrappy, not particularly tight squash to begin the game, but the score-line did stay close. Vikram kept his nose in front just enough to take it 11-8. The second game was pretty much all Vikram. He started to get his rhythm, move the ball around the corners more effectively, which set up his short game a lot better. Jed struggled with the movement a little, and before he knew it, had lost that game 11-3.

Vikram Chopra and Jed Elley
Jed had a deep hole to climb out of. One rally at a time is the only way to get there though, and he started the 3rd game with a more aggressive attitude. Better lines, straighter, not overly fancy. The tighter squash threw Vikram off a little and some unforced errors were slithering themselves in. Jed raced off to a 4-1 lead and although Vikram came back to 8-all, Jed still gave the impression he was still in charge and had the higher motivation. And with that, Jed clawed back a game, taking the third 11-8.

It was now Vikram’s turn to shake things up. And he did. A more offensive mindset, Vikram was now more on his toes and taking that extra step up to the 'T', injecting a bit more pace into the game. It worked. Quickly, Vikram had the 7-3 lead. Jed wasn’t giving up though, and the final few exchanges became noticeably intense, neither player willing to give up position on the court. However, the advantage was too great and Vikram managed to keep Jed at bay, taking the 4th game 11-6 and with it his first DAC Club Champion title!

It was an outstanding night of finals matches – remember, all of these competitors have earned their right to represent the DAC at the 2017 Farris Cup, we should be in good shape! This season has been nothing short of sensational, once again court usage totals are at an all-time high. The summer leagues are kicking off and we also have record numbers in those as well, and if you haven’t signed up for them make sure you still come down at least a few times to swing your racquet – don’t be left behind!

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