Friday, April 29, 2016


2016 Doubles Club Championships

What a mixed bag of results. If anyone could have predicted the winners of all 3 categories at the start of the event, they either would have had 1. Bribed the players; 2. Literally pulled the names out of a hat; or 3. A time machine. Since we haven’t seen any flying DeLoreans around or a kooky long haired scientist, I assume we can eliminate number 3 at least…

A total of 64 players were wrangling for the titles, which also surprised me since it fell 2 players short of last year’s record entries. The doubles contingent is growing - based on the fact that the ranking has 100 players listed - and looking at the results this year, so is the parity.

Doubles C:
I find this category the most unpredictable because the draw is always a hodgepodge of veteran teams that understand the angles and read the game fluently, and young fledglings that indiscriminately chase the ball and swing for the fences hoping for the best. Generally speaking, experience I find is rather valuable on the doubles court (more so than on a singles) as I think we have all suffered at some time in our careers a humiliating beat down from an elder opponent who, if judging a book by its cover, looked like they couldn’t manage tying their own shoelaces let alone navigate a 40 x 25 foot arena. Although some rookies have won this category before, history is on the side of the well-versed, and 2016 kept to that script.

Now, I am certainly not suggesting that Ken Katz and Joe Moran cannot tie up their shoelaces – I am sure they can – but these two are not strangers to competing for the club championships. In fact, they won it in 2012, were runner-up in 2011 and 2010, and Ken can also claim the title in 2006 (with then partner Peter Fortune) and was a finalist in 2005 with Sandy Hudson. In other words, they have been around for a while! Of course, even with the proven success, Ken is one of the biggest worry warts of them all, fearful of all upcoming opponents, fretting he won’t be up to scratch. He does, indubitably, underestimate himself. Ken and Joe churned themselves to the final dropping only 1 game along the way, which was against Justin Winkelman and Andrew Spohn, results that should have given the pair confidence.

Meeting them for the final showdown was another pair that also shared quite a bit of experience between them. Dave Devine and Tom McCarthy had a slightly more difficult task reaching this far, their campaign almost didn’t get them past their first match. Curt Pedersen and Chuck Doyle pushed them all the way to the edge, but they survived the scare to take the 3-2 win, regrouped for the next encounter, performing well for the solid 3-0 victory. Neither Dave or Tom had reached the Doubles C final before, it was their first chance to play for the title.

The difference one rally can make. And of course timing is everything. When you win that rally can (and did) change everything. The teams took turns. Dave and Tom claimed the first, Ken and Joe the second, and back to Dave and Tom for the third. Close scores, neither team was dominating, it could easily have been different to the 2-1 game total. Fast forward to the end of the 4th game… 14-all. Game-ball for Katz / Moran; match-ball for Devine / McCarthy. Tensions were no doubt high, and really when it comes to this point of a match, it’s a matter of luck above anything else. Ken and Joe won that coin-toss, and from that point onwards the momentum was in their favor. It’s an absolute let-down when you have the title on the tips of your fingers and it slips away, for Dave and Tom it would be a difficult task to pick themselves up for the 5th. It was not to be for them and Ken and Joe ran away with it and claimed another club championship title! Final score: 12-15; 15-11; 13-15; 15-14; 15-10.

Doubles B:
Going in as favorites for this category, I had Sante Fratarcangeli and Manny Tancer at the top of the draw. Last year for this pair they experienced a heartbreaking loss in the final where they went down 15-14 in the 5th to Bret Williams and Paul Ward. They needed to redeem themselves.

Going in as second favorite, I had Jason Curry and Dave Walker. Jason and Dave also suffered through an unpalatable loss last year in the semifinal 15-13 in the 5th – which was to Sante and Manny. I was looking forward to another blockbuster showdown between these 2 teams for the final… however we had a spoiler alert!

Not for Manny and Sante – they got through to the final almost unscathed. The 2 matches they needed, they won both of them 3-1. I think those results were closer than the pair would have predicted or liked, but again it does show that you cannot take any team lightly, it is pretty straightforward to find yourself on the wrong end of a winning streak.

Going in as no favorite at all, was Chris Van Tol and Matt DiDio. Last year this team lost first round 3-2 to Paul Flanagan and Andrew Spohn, and as far as I could tell were so dejected about the loss hadn’t stepped on the doubles court since. So how this pair defied the odds is a mystery, maybe they had been secretly training in the middle of the night…? Chris and Matt were veritably thrown randomly into the draw and quietly went about their business. They won their first two matches 3-1, which although I didn’t really expect them to do so, I wasn’t inordinately astonished about it either. I didn’t give them much hope against Jason and Dave in the semifinal though, I was sure their run would end rather abruptly. But no, once again whatever I predict would happen just comes back to haunt the innocent. The Currie / Walker team must have been as befuddled as I, as Van Tol / DiDio sent the second seeds packing with another 3-1 victory.
Manny Tancer, Sante F, Matt DiDio, Chris Van Tol

Setting up an interesting final, I was no longer going to prophesize anything. Chris and Matt were on their own, I wasn’t about to ruin it with some idiotic jinx. Would they be able to continue on their Cinderella run? Even at their best, combatting the Sante – Manny duo that felt robbed just 12 months ago would be a huge assignment, their determination not to let another get away would be at an all-time high. Keen to dominate from the start, Sante and Manny set the tone early and kept the pressure on. ‘Pedal to the metal’ for three straight games was the theme and Chris and Matt were constantly forced to play from behind, their magical streak coming quickly to an end. The 3-0 score was clinical and convincing: 15-11; 15-9; 15-8. It’s Manny’s and Sante’s first doubles club championship title and they have just earned their way up to the big boys next year!

Doubles A:
And the most predictable of all, the Doubles A. Stand up and applaud, once again, for the 142nd time, the 2016 Doubles Champions, Kirk Haggar… Hang on! Hold the phone! Back the truck up! The streak has finally been snapped! For the first time since at least 2005, the Doubles A final did not feature a Haggarty, a Eugenio, or a Logan!

Kirk Haggarty and Mike Eugenio have been reigning champions since 2012, with no reason to think they wouldn’t win it again this year. But from the outset, it looked shaky. They almost didn’t make it out of the gates as they were taken by surprise by John Dunwoody and Eric Green. John and Eric pestered themselves to a do-or-die 5th game, but failed to complete the (unlikely) job. Kirk and Mike’s escape was only temporary. Their semifinal was a repeat of 2015’s adventure against John Rakolta (JR) and George Kordas – a match Kirk and Mike only won in 5. This year’s version would be very different. At 1 game apiece, during the 3rd game, Kirk pulled up lame with an injury and regrettably had to default the match. It’s a dissatisfying way to win, but JR and George weren’t about to let the opportunity to compete for DAC glory slip.

On the opposite side of the draw, Peter Logan teamed up with Vikram Chopra. Vikram is still relatively new to doubles and hasn’t quite reached the level he needs to be in order to be a viable threat – yet. Don’t worry, though, it won’t be long. Peter and Vikram reached the semifinal easily enough and came up against Jed Elley and Ryan Covell. Jed and Ryan played together last year, so they are somewhat familiar with themselves, and in 2015 they lost the semifinal 15-14 in the 5th to Peter Logan and his then partner Robin Basil. Going one better in 2016, Jed and Ryan took down Logan / Chopra 3-1 to set up an unlikely final with 4 players that have never been in such a position before.

The hype leading up to the match was nothing short of outrageous. E-mail trails that took on a life on its own and grandiose ideas only matched by the Superbowl by comparison. Fog machines, laser shows, disco lights, choir, emcees, VIP lounge… A production that proved too much to put together, but at least we got an e-mail or two out to announce the spectacle and we did get a decent amount people coming out to witness history in the making.
Ryan Covell, Jed Elley, John Rakolta, George Kordas

In matching outfits, the two teams were happy to pose for a photo op before the ‘clash of the titans’ began. JR and George, who call themselves the “Blue Chips” (?? – huh?) were in red… (ummm… huh?) and team Jed-Co were in… in… is that teal? Let’s call it blue.

Doubles is typically a game of power and angles. Hit the snot out of the ball and use the walls and corners. And, most importantly, get out of the way. So, it’s really no surprise that JR’s tactic is virtually the complete opposite: soft, high, float the ball, and put the body on the line. A tactic that throws most people off. After losing the first game 15-10, the Blue Chips nonchalantly continued their game plan and slowly team Jed-Co were creeping into the realm of unreliability. Mistakes started to appear, “easy” tins that may have been winners… and the harder they tried to avoid these errors, the more that seemed to emerge. Evening it up, the third game was the pivotal moment.

Not too far into the set, a power backhand stroke by Jed collected JR flush in the face with the racquet. It did not look good. A deep gash to the chin, JR needed medical attention and the first aid kit was depleted of its supplies to stop the flow. The knock to the head did not seem to faze JR however, and when play resumed, both teams were holding their ground admirably going point for point. The sudden death point at 14-all fell JR and George’s way, and it decided the outcome.

JR and George. Battle scarred.
Jed-Co were rattled. They were not expecting to be in this position – nor were the enthralled audience. Was this an upset in the making? Quite frankly – yes. The 4th game was a one-way mauling. All the momentum was with the Blue Chips, Jed and Ryan looked despondent as if they were waiting for the inevitable and they simply could not stop the rot. Final score: 10-15; 15-11; 15-14; 15-6. Say “hello” to the new DAC Doubles Club Champions: John Rakolta and George Kordas!

JR and I (The Blue Chips) had one strategy heading into our Championship match last Friday and that was to hopefully serve up the freshest, most creative Squash that The DAC has seen since Executive Chef Kevin Brennan’s award winning Casserole a few years back”, said team captain George Kordas. Well put George, I’m sure Chef Brennan would be proud to have his gourmet creations be compared to your doubles squash game.

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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