There were fewer jokes. Smiles to friends in the gallery were exchanged for serious, quiet stretching as part of a pre-game workout that lasted twice as long as usual. Reeling from the loss of three of its top players to injury, the men's squash team anxiously approached its match against Penn Wednesday night, unsure of what it would find.
But as nine players slipped into higher rankings as though they were business suits, Princeton routed Penn, 8-1 at the Ringe Courts. The win improved the Tigers' record to 5-0 overall (3-0 Ivy League) while Penn continued its season-long stumble, falling to 2-6 (1-3).
"Everyone was probably a little more nervous than usual," freshman Eric Pearson, who was playing No. 2 instead of No. 5, said. "We were really intense — ready to roll."
But there was no need to worry. Rallying behind the three victories of No. 1 David Yik, the freshman brother of regular senior No. 1 Peter Yik, Princeton suffered only one loss as junior No. 8 Brian Spaly fell, 3-1, to junior Ritesh Tilani. Eight Tigers were forced to assume rankings three spots higher than usual. Nevertheless, seven of Princeton's wins were sweeps.
"It was a little nerve-wracking," head coach Bob Callahan '77 said. "I was concerned it would be a much more interesting match than it would have been if all our players were healthy. But the end result is actually that the team played very well."
Up the ladder
Over the past week, the Tigers had been focusing on playing smarter during challenging situations. The emphasis on discipline under pressure will be important against talented teams such as Harvard and Yale, but it was also useful to more inexperienced players thrust into positions of greater responsibility.
Defending national champion Peter Yik did not compete against Penn because of a chronic sore knee and shin splints that have the potential to develop into a stress fracture with continued intense play. Since the Tigers were fairly confident that they could win against Penn without Yik's help, they decided to attempt the delicate balance between a needed respite and resting him out of playing condition.
But Yik will certainly compete during a grueling next two weeks that include matches with Yale this weekend and defending champion Harvard Feb. 13.
Freshman Will Evans, who sprained a finger on his right hand when he fell while walking through snow last week, is also planning to return against Yale. But freshman Dan Rutherford is out with a severely sprained ankle and does not know when he will return.
The sudden spate of injuries momentarily stunned the team, and apprehensive discussions in team meetings ensued. The injured players attempted to stay in shape, attending practices to work out, although they could not work on their squash games. Rutherford's remains the most serious injury. Spraining his ankle during a game of basketball, Rutherford was forced to put his leg in a cast.
"It is frustrating," Evans, who is currently battling the flu, said. "It's just coincidences — bad coincidences."
But Evans was able to compete over the weekend at the Tournament of Champions in New York City, advancing to the semifinals of the highest skill level bracket. Yik and sophomore Peter Kelly made it to the finals. It was just another example of the Tigers' pulling through.
"[At Penn,] everyone really stepped up to the challenge and really came through," Evans said.
The Quakers were also playing without their No. 1 starter Jamie White, who is out for the spring season. Wounded by graduations, Penn is composed mainly of unknowns. But Yik steadily smoothed over any potential ruts. Throughout the season, he has established himself as one of the Tigers' most consistent players, and he would not mar that image.
Poised and confident, he stroked shots calmly, while his opponent, Peter Withstandly, scrambled desperately all over the court.
"David is absolutely superb — wonderful," Callahan said. "I mean, he concentrates very well, focuses, keeps his mind on his business and is just a real asset to Princeton. He just has perfect sportsmanship at the same time he's competing as hard as he can."