2016 DAC Squash Classic - Feb 11-14
Nothing is more satisfying than seeing this event increase in size and reach. Court space is a finite quantity and unless everybody wishes me to start arranging matches between 11pm and 8am, that is unlikely to change. So increasing the size of the tournament is restrictive although this year we did have a record 168 registrations. This came about because we did have fewer people entering 2 categories (smart!) which allowed for more players.
What is another sign of success is seeing where the entries are coming from, how far some are willing to travel to experience the Classic. As usual, London (Ontario) swamped us with over 30 players to lead the charge. Windsor threw 20 at us, and then the group from Sarnia plus a few from Toronto boosted the Canadian contingent to about 60. Over a third of the total, who probably consumed over two thirds of the kegs...
For the first time we also had a couple of players from Columbus, Ohio, and they have vowed to bring a lot more next year. One from Chicago, one from Flint, good support out of Toledo, and a special shout out to our beloved ex-member Ken MacDonald who once again flew in from Denver. Non-resident member Anil Kathuria drove all the way from upper New York state, and we almost had a fellow out of Philadelphia as well, however, he was stuck on the wait list and didn’t make the cut. But nothing tops the commitment from another ex-member - Alan Howard - making the trip from England (yes, the one in Europe across the ocean!).
The recognition of the social life behind the Classic is what drives the popularity (the number ‘602’ is taking on a special meaning) and another validation of the tournament’s desirability is how early registration capacity is reached. This year, it was January 4. Make a note of that for 2017.
This is what happened on the courts:
Singles 2.5~ I would love to have enough court space to offer a separate women’s category. But we don’t. So it was wonderful to see that out of the 19 players in this draw, 8 were women. Our members are not used to playing against females often and it can be a mental hurdle to deal with. In reality, you should play against a women just like you would a man. Changing your tactic because of gender sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
Dewey Steffen didn’t have to worry about it playing in his first ever squash tournament. Beating John Parnell 3-1 first round, he battled almost to the death against John Edwards from the YMCA as he “Boo-Yah-ed!” himself through a 5-set scramble-fest impressing all onlookers how well he could cover the court for someone so... ‘fresh’ to squash. The 3-2 win put him in the quarter final but he couldn’t handle the speed of Haytham Hermiz and went down in flames 3-0. Now, it was up to Haytham to tackle playing a women in the semi. Colleen McDougall (London) took advantage of Haytham’s nervousness in the first game but once he had warmed up and started scooting around the court in the second, his retrieval abilities paid off and he evened up the contest. Of course, Colleen came out harder in the third, and that seemed to take Haytham a little out of step. She took that close game for a 2-1 lead and then dominated the 4th as well to land herself in the final.
Her opponent was almost another women from London. Victoria Soo was looking solid all weekend as she won her first couple of rounds 3-0. Mike McCuish had been getting some good practice in playing London women, though, as his first two rounds were against a couple of Victoria’s fellow female club members. Mike and Victoria had a tough semi final, and Mike’s hustle pushed him through the 3-1 result to the final. Colleen was waiting for him and was determined not to let Mike go 4 for 4. Steady squash won the day for Colleen as she continually placed the ball in stressful positions wearing Mike down quickly. It was a well played 3-0!
Singles 3.0~ The DAC has had moderately good success in this category over the years. Since 2005 we have had at least 1 representative in the final every year except one, and have won the category 7 times. With the large percentage of players in this level coming from our club, it was inevitable we were going to win it again. In fact, 7 of the 8 quarter finalists were DAC members. The lone stand out was another women from London - Anne Smith. And she ended up losing to the eventual 3.0 winner.
Early on, my money was on John Mann. Later on, my money was still on John, despite a major scare in his quarter final against Anil Kathuria. Anil struggles to find any competitive matches living in the New York state boonies but he must have pulled out some old form and pushed John to the brink. John dodged the bullet with an 11-9 in the 5th victory. He then had to fight tooth and nail in the semi final against Mike Rock who had taken out the charging Josh Gershonowicz 3-2 in his quarter final. Mike is a picture of calmness, quite the opposite of John, but in this case John’s feverish hubbub would prevail 3-1.
His finals opponent was not a surprise, as one of many players on this half of the draw could have gone all the way. But I did not predict Chas Bayer wouldn’t reach the final because he wasn’t skilled enough, more because he was tournament inexperienced. It appeared not to matter as Chas reached the semi final comfortably, and then stayed tough to take out Ian Edwards in 5 in the semi.
I still would have laid my bets on John for the final, and it only proves why I refuse to gamble. If I bet that I could shoot the side of a barn from 10 feet away, I would probably pull the trigger as I yanked the gun from the holster and blow my foot off instead. I predicted Carolina would win the Superbowl. Chas did a wonderful job handling John’s energy and endeavors, minimizing errors, keeping the pressure on John to actually win the rallies rather than relying on mistakes. Chas took the match 3-1.
Singles 3.5~ Brothers are funny, One-upping each other is no doubt common in house holds and the Bayer boys seem as competitive as any other siblings. Colin Bayer just witnessed his brother win the 3.0 title and now the pressure was squarely on his shoulders to see if he could claim the 3.5.
Colin had little trouble reaching the final, dropping only a couple of games along the way. But, the most daunting opponent he had was the young Sara Khan (Windsor). As I mentioned earlier, one shouldn’t change tactics simply because your opponent is a women, but when it is a young girl, then the mental challenges take over. The fear of losing (and then the inescapable ridiculing from your peers until the end of time) to a teenage girl can inundate one’s mind to the point of being unable to think straight. Colin doesn’t think straight to start off with (ha-ha!) so he had no issue dispatching Sara 3-0.
JC Tibbitts’ path to the final was a little more difficult. He only had one 3-0 result, and his semi final made him work a lot harder than he really wanted to. Greg Gillis from London showed his experience and pushed JC to 5 long games, unlucky not to finish the job. Maybe Greg can take a little solace in the fact that he may be the cause that JC couldn’t quite last in the final.
He almost did. JC and Colin punished themselves for the first 4 games, splitting the spoils. Unfortunately for JC, his tank was more empty than Colin’s and the 5th game was clear who would win in the end. Colin can boast to Chas that his title is 0.5 bigger.
Singles 4.0~ This was the largest 4.0 draw we have ever hosted. 29 players. Once we get to this level, the DAC has difficulty having anyone go all the way. In fact, since 2005, only 1 DAC member has won the 4.0 - Brien Baker in 2013. And once again, Brien was attempting to repeat that success this year.
Brien got to the semi final easily, winning his first 3 rounds dropping only 1 game. Once there, he came up against the rock steady Mark Ryan from London. Mark is not a speedster, but he smacks a hard length, reads the ball well and punishes anything that sits up. Brien has a propensity to boast and although it often is an effective weapon, overusing the angle can be a recipe for disaster - especially against a knowledgeable opponent. It didn’t take Mark long to start to jump onto those boasts and Brien found it difficult to hold back. Mark took it 3-1 and advanced to the final.
Meeting him there was another very experienced player in Anis Khan (Windsor). Also not known for his speed around the court, he does know all the tricks in the book. He knows when to slow it down, when to drop, when to lob. He knows how to anticipate. He needed that anticipation to reach the powerful length shots of Mark and I was impressed at his ability to get his racquet to shots I thought were going to be out of his reach. Anis held on - even though at times it looked like he could hardly stand up straight - and won the final 3-1.
Singles 4.5~ Only 5 matches of the 15 played in the main draw for the 4.5 level ended up 3-0. An great sign of the competitiveness and over the years, it has proven perfectly elusive to our members. A DAC member has never won this category although we did come close last year when Sante Fratarcangeli lost the final.
Sante was hoping to go one better this year, but luck of the draw was against him. Hugh McDonald is a young man from London, and man-o-man can he run. I suppose if a player simply gets every single ball back, he can’t lose. Eventually, the opponent has to make a mistake. Despite that, Sante almost took him down anyway but he did fall 3-2 in the end. Hugh reached the semi final where he came up against Brian Porter from Windsor. Brian did not want a long drawn out 5-setter, but he didn’t have a choice. Hugh would have played best of 9 games if permitted, as he sprinted from side to corner to corner to side. Brian looked tired just having to swing the racquet seemingly without end. Luckily for Brian, it was only 5 games, and somehow he was steady enough to reach 11 points first. His reward was another match - the final - 2 hours later.
His opponent would be Chris Robitaille from Toronto. Chris had little trouble reaching the semi final, but he had to fight for his life against Mitchell Werner (Franklin) once there. Mitchell is also a runner, Chris very cerebral, and unfortunately the styles did clash somewhat. Long rallies were aplenty. but so was the interference and the appointed referee was called upon often. For the most part, control was kept and the arguments few. In matches like these, more often than not the more experienced player will end up on top and that turned out to be true here as well. Chris fought hard for that 3-2 win.
I am sure neither Chris or Brian wanted another 5-set groaner, but that is exactly what they did anyway. It was a cleaner contest - no referee was needed - the two traded games for over an hour wondering when it would all end. Seeing stars and little blue chirping birdies flutter in circles around his head, Brian finally finished the 3-2 victor.
Singles 5.0~ Windsor domination. Although, to be fair, that domination was helped by the withdrawal of Ali Somani from Toronto. Ali reached the final last year and was looking to go one step further of course, but after getting to the semi, he awoke on Sunday morning with a back issue that prevented him from even standing up. That’s not to say he would have won the tournament, and I’m not talking anything away from the other competitors, but it did clear the path somewhat.
The recipient of Ali’s extraction was Dave Guthrie (Windsor). Dave did very well to beat our Jamie Shea in the quarter final 3-2, a result I was not expecting. Dave also took care of Brad Steel (BAC) 3-0 in the first round which also surprised me because I thought it impossible for Brad to play anything less than 5 games in any match he plays.
Meeting Dave in the final was his compatriot Kevin Furmanek. Kevin is a big hitter, and he powered himself through the draw dropping only 1 game which was in the semi final - against another Windsorite in Al Valente.
Dave and Kevin had entered the tournament together in the Doubles B category as well, so it was a very friendly occasion for this particular final. Don’t get me wrong - they played hard and were out there to win it. Kevin’s power is rather impressive, and Dave did well to be able to control a lot of those cannonballs. Kevin took the match 3-1, a match played in the spirit I wish all contests were done.
Singles 5.5~ The ‘men’s’ 5.5 only had 3 men in it. It also had 4 juniors and 1 women. And it produced a couple of the most entertaining matches the DAC Classic has ever witnessed. All 4 semi finalists won their first round 3-0, just a warm up for what was to come.
The only non-junior in the semi final was Brad Hanebury (London). He was up against 19 year old David Mill. David grew up in Windsor, is currently in Toronto and will be moving to London next year for college. Brad has won the 5.5 category here 3 times and has proven his grit in long 5 set matches. David has come a long way with his squash over the past few years, working hard on his game in Toronto and looks like he had grown even taller since I last saw him just 5 months ago. David won the first game quickly, but Brad settled in for the second and became a lot more patient for his opportunities. I even saw him hit a couple of excellent drop-shots... maybe they were mis-hits... It turned out to be a long 5 setter, and David’s fitness was starting to be the difference. Stronger to the finish, he took the 3-2 victory.
The second semi was epic. Stefan Houbtchev is 19, from Windsor, living in London, playing for the college. Ned Mylod is 16 and we are very proud that he is a DAC member. Ned was in for a tough test against Stefan who is strong and steady, has great reach and patience. Ned has special racquet skills, can end a point at any moment (literally) and can be remarkably quick. He would need to display some restraint with his shot making but without being too defensive. Stefan took the first holding the lead the entire way, but the second was a lot closer. Still though, Stefan squeezed it out 13-11 and with a 2-0 game lead, Ned would need something exceptional to come back. And that is when he started to play his style. Suddenly the shots were coming. Nick! Stefan was often left flat footed watching the ball roll out to his feet. Nick! Another winner. Flick! A deceptive backhand flick leaving Stefan with his weight on the back foot. Flick! Another one. Ned’s confidence was rising, Stefan’s rhythm was quickly being taken apart. Ned took the next two games and raced to a 10-5 lead in the 5th for 5 match balls. However, impulsiveness returned and Ned was trying to end the rally too quickly. Stefan simply kept it in play and soon enough Stefan not only saved the match-balls but held his own at 11-10. Ned regrouped, he was not going to let this one get away. A winner volley drop, some wonderful retrievals, Ned took the 5th 13-11. He was in the final.
Could he back it up? My fear was the let down after such a great win. If he could reproduce his form he was in business. David, though, had other thoughts. From the get go, he established himself with strong hitting, pounding the length, dominating the front position. He did not let Ned get settled into tempo, keeping the pace high and taking advantage of anything loose that came his way. It was a commanding performance, authoritative, and there was no way he wasn’t taking the 3-0 win. Congratulations to David! And to Ned - you did us proud as well!
I’ll make a special mention for the 5.5 consolation semi. Micaala Seth (Sarnia) versus Seth Rogers (BAC). An incredibly absorbing match, both players destroying themselves physically as they lunged, dug, stretched, clawed, sprinted, jumped, keeled over in pain and exhaustion. As countless match balls were saved over the contest, Micaala won the amazing match 3-2. Then again, Seth Rogers was hardly the loser. Micaala then went on to win the cons final 3-2 as well.
Doubles C~ DAC domination. That’s right, the DAC ruled this category! All 4 teams in the semi final were our members guaranteeing victory. The biggest upset of the draw happened in the first round when Shail Arora and Bob Garvey took out the dangerous Lindsay and Anne Smith (London) who have won this event 3 times. Shail and Bob made everyone hold their breath as they beat the Smiths 15-14 in the 5th.
Rich Stimson and Mike Petix beat them 3-0 in the semi final and were looking tough to beat in the final. But they had their work cut out for them with Andy Housey and Frank Willard meshing pretty well together. Andy and Frank only dropped 2 games on their way to the final. All four players were keen to win their first DAC doubles title, and it all came down to the final and 5th game. An exciting contest, played in great spirits, it was Rich and Mike taking the honors.
Doubles B~ Can you believe we dominated this category as well? Three of the four semi finalists came from the DAC, and the biggest eye-opener was Bret Williams and Paul Ward. I expected them to win their first round - and they did 3-0 - but I wasn’t envisioning them getting any further. However, no fear at all as they tackled Kevin Furmanek and Dave Guthrie, they took the game by the throat, went shot for shot, proved they belonged. The 15-13 in the 5th win raised eye-brows and earned respect. And they didn’t stop there. Next on the chopping block was Bill Oddo and John Dunwoody, a 5-set victory adding to their victims and suddenly they were in the final. Standing in their way of an improbable title was Mike Counsman and Jamie Shea. Mike and Jamie were close to being eliminated in the semi but survived 3-2 against Tom Porter and Graham Duguid from Windsor. That scare gave them the kick they needed for the final and they planted themselves squarely in the driver’s seat early on and did not let up. It wasn’t going any further than 3 games and they stopped the incredible run from Bret and Paul.
Doubles A~ Okay, we didn’t dominate this category. We almost had a finalist though... Peter Logan paired up with Toledo pro John Seidel and in the semi final the two had to deal with the youthful exuberance of Stefan Houbtchev and David Mill. Another nail biter on the doubles court, another match pushing the schedule late (!) this one also came down to the final sudden death rally. Luck at this stage, the youngsters managed to pull the rabbit of the hat and take the 5th 15-14. In the final they would have to be at their best. Rob Doherty and Caleb Quinlan (London) were determined to win their first title since 2010 and blasted their way through their first two matches 3-0 and 3-1. Experience in doubles is more advantageous than what is can be in singles, knowing the angles overrides the ability to cover the court - it’s simply too big. Stefan and David did well, and if they play the game more often they will be pretty darn good at it, but on this day Rob and Caleb showed them the way and won the match 3-1.
The tournament has come to a close and we at the DAC can be proud of the success of the event. A huge thank you to our sponsors as they are the foundation of that said success, a huge thank you to my DAC work colleagues as their professionalism is noticed by all, a huge thank you to our members that support the program, we wouldn’t be in this position otherwise. See you all in 2017.