Marcus Cowie was tired. Trinity had already claimed the regular-season national squash championship earlier in the afternoon, streaking to a 7-1 lead entering the final match Saturday at Jadwin Gym.
Princeton (9-1) had lost, but there was a new battle now transpiring on court No. 1 between the two best men's college squash players in the country, and bodies pressed against the court glass, squirming and squinting four rows back at the top of the stands and spilling out into the hallway, peering down onto the court.
Peter Yik saw them. Princeton's senior No. 1 saw all of his teammates huddled along the top row, sweaty from their own matches and screaming their support. He saw coach Bob Callahan standing behind him on the floor, body tense and jittery, grimacing at lost points, roaring a little too loudly when he won.
But what Yik saw most clearly was an opponent waning like the moon. Tied four games apiece, and at 14 all, Cowie's shots had been too hard, too early in the volley — he was straining to pack away points too quickly. His court movement lagged, his jump on the ball sluggish. So when Yik blew a 14-10 lead and had to choose the nature of the overtime — one sudden-death point or the first to reach three — he already knew what to do.
Three points later Yik had defeated Cowie in a tense match that decided nothing, but capped Yik's stellar Princeton career with an individual win in his final home match, against the toughest opponent he has faced in his collegiate career. Either Yik or Cowie has won the individual championship since they entered college four years ago, and Yik's win could have implications for this year's individual championship's seedings.
But Yik wasn't thinking about that. He was too busy watching his team beaming back at him.
"I could tell that they really wanted me to win, and I can't express how much that meant to me," Yik said. "They've always been there for me, and it was just a big win, not for me but for the team."
It helped to ease the sting of a single blemish on an otherwise perfect season that saw Princeton win its first Ivy Championship since 1982 a week earlier against Harvard. But only a little.
"I think we were disappointed with the result," Yik said. "We were underdogs going in, but any time you lose you're not going to be happy with the result. I think we have another legitimate shot of beating them next weekend."
Yik was referring to the National Intercollegiate Squash and Racquet Association Championships to be held this weekend at Yale. There the Tigers will compete against the top eight teams in the country, meaning that in three weeks they will have faced Harvard and Trinity (15-0) four times.
Callahan contradicted Yik's optimism, despite emphasizing that the next few days of practice would be focused around comprehensive tape analysis of the match.
"No. No. No," he said, when asked if he believed Princeton could defeat Trinity in the rematch. "Our goal next weekend is to beat Harvard and get to the final."
Against Trinity on Saturday, Callahan said, "We got beaten by a better team. Going in we knew they were much stronger and we hoped to play well. I thought that we played very well against a clearly better team. I was very proud of our guys that they've accomplished so much."
But for one instant earlier in the day, Callahan and the heavily Trinity-laden stands had paused. Princeton No. 2 freshman David Yik was leading his match 1-0, No. 4 freshman Eric Pearson was tied, 1-1, and No. 6 freshman Danny Rutherford —who would go on to win for Princeton's only other victory —was ahead 2-0. Callahan then allowed himself to peek into the future, pondering possibilities.
Then the door slammed shut.
"I was thinking as any daydreaming coach would, what about if this happened and this happened and this happened we might win this!" Callahan said. "But I know every time in my life I start thinking this, everything goes to hell."
Only Rutherford and Yik would win and go on to win more games after that.
"It's nice to know that you always have another chance, Yik said. "We know that it's not over yet — that we still have a chance to go out there and give it our best shot again."