Guest writer Ted Price is the tournament director of the annual Price-Bullington Invitational Squash Tournament, which was held over Halloween weekend. Photographs courtesy of Mary C.H. Johnson.
Richmond, VA — The 2009 Price-Bullington Invitational Tournament was memorable in many ways. First it was the 39th anniversary of this event – the first tournament having been played in 1970. Second, the tournament was won for the third time in row, by Colin West of Harvard. The last and only other time this has happened was when Adrian Ezra, also of Harvard, won the event in 1991, 1992, and 1993. The draw for the tournament was a good one with six All-Americans and the #1 player from almost every Ivy League team in attendance. This tournament was historic also for a less than favorable reason: for the first time in many years, Trinity College was not represented.
Leading off the roster of players in order of seeds in addition to top seed All-American Colin West, were All-Americans Jim Bristow, co-captain of the very strong Rochester team, All-American David Letourneau of Princeton and 2nd Team All-American Hameed Ahmed, co-captain of Rochester. Other colleges were represented by the following: Princeton – Todd Harrity, Clay Blackiston; Harvard – Reed Endresen; Yale – 2nd Team All-American John Fulham, Todd Ruth; Rochester – 2nd Team All-American Beni Fischer, Andres Duany; Franklin & Marshall – Gabriel de Melo; University of Pennsylvania – Thomas Mattsson; the University of Southern California – JP Rothie and finally England’s Newbury College and The Country Club of Virginia squash professional – Gus Cook. Cook had won the P-BI Qualifying Tournament over former UNC tennis great and Westwood Club‘s professional Sean Steinour to earn the final slot in the main draw.
The Tournament Committee, in consultation with the college coaches, decided before the 39th Anniversary Tournament began that with the intensity of the soft ball game the old P-BI format of a feed in consolation through the second round was too hard on the players. In the hard ball days the Tournament had always had a feed in through the quarter finals which resulted in four players actually playing three full matches on the first day of play. The Committee had become concerned in 2008 when at least one player was injured from the ferocity and length of play that the extra match placed too much stress on players’ bodies early in the season. Thus it was determined that the Tournament would be changed to include a first round consolation and a second round consolation, which would allow a maximum of two matches to be played in a day.
The 39th P-BI got under way early on Saturday morning – a perfect day for squash, raining and cool with lots of frustrated golfers in the audience. The first round seeded matches, not surprisingly, went according to seed with West defeating Cook in three, Bristow rolling over Blackiston in three, Letourneau wining in four over JP Rothie and Hameed Ahmed defeating Endresen in three. Matches were less dominated in the other match ups: in the non-seeded matches Ruth of Yale took five games to win over Mattsson, Todd Harrity, demonstrating his power and attrition approach defeated Duany in three, Fischer won over de Melo in a hard-fought five-game match and Domenick took Fulham in four long games.
The second round of the main draw had the only seed upset of the tournament when Princeton’s young Harrity, undefeated in the final two years of junior play and the top ranked junior in 2007, 2008 and 2009 defeated 4th seed Ahmed in five hard-fought games
Although this match went the full five games spectators were impressed at the Princeton freshman’s intensity and drive. Harrity’s game is based on literally trying to run his opponents into the ground and early in the tournament this plan worked well. Ahmed coming off a summer of newspaper work was not prepared for the length of the rallies that Harrity forced and succumbed to this workout 11-7, 9-11, 11-5, 5-11, 12-10, although, as is obvious, not without a tremendous fight.
Defending the third seed slot, Dave Letourneau came up against Rochester’s talented freshman Beni Fischer from Switzerland. Most of the excitement came in the first game of this match as Fischer jumped out to a quick lead and never relinquished it winning 11-8. All American Letourneau quickly regained his equilibrium in the second game and took the next three games fairly easily, 11-0, 11-5, 11-6.
Second seed Bristow not surprisingly won in four games against Cornell’s #1 player Alex Domenick 9-11, 2-11, 12-10, 11-7. Donenick was in the game the entire way but the outcome was never in doubt.
Colin West, demonstrating what hard training will do for a squash player, rolled over Yale’s Ruth without drawing a deep breath. West had spent the summer training with several PSA members, working on racquet skill and strength and it showed as he glided to a three game victory: 11-2, 11-4, 11-2.
The semi-final matches lived up to their billing as great squash. At the bottom of the draw, Jim Bristow played Dave Letourneau while at the top, Colin West took on Todd Harrity. In the former match, given the fact that Bristow was the higher seeded player and ranked #3 to Letourneau’s #5 in the CSA, one could have expected that the Rochester captain would prevail. This was not to be the case as the match was nearly a dead heat with the exception of the first game. In this game we are not sure what happened except that Bristow seemed asleep. He tinned and even whiffed a few ball – we have not seen many whiffed balls in P-BI competition — and lost 11-1. The wake-up call must have come in the 90 seconds between games as Bristow came back for bear. His reverse corners off deep drives and great retrievals stood him in good stead and he took this game 11-9. The third and fourth games went alternatively to Letourneau and then to Bristow 11-7, 11-8. The last game was a marathon with both players at the top of their games. The rallies were very long, lasting 40 to 50 shots with a few 60 shot exchanges, as neither player would give up. Bristow maintained a marginal lead until 9-8. At 9 all both players traded rallies for what seemed like an hour before Letourneau raced back to retrieve a deep volley, turned and whipped what looked like a reverse corner to the right hand corner. The shot was absolutely perfect and instead of ricocheting around the corner, caught the corner and died; 9 all. Bristow, now clearly tired and on wobbly pegs tinned the next shot, a Letourneau volley drive down the back hand wall. The last shot of the match was a magnificent overhead return of service by Letourneau that simply rolled out of the corner to win the match 12-10.
At the other end of the draw, the Tiger’s unseeded Harrity prepared to battle top seed West in their semi final. West, whip cord tough and prepped for battle demonstrated his fitness (he probably didn’t even know he did this) with a 3 ½ foot standing jump on the court as he waited for Harrity to serve the first point. The crowd was impressed! Harrity, looking well-conditioned as well, to his credit did not seemed fazed by his top-ranked and seeded opponent and settled into his usual game of attrition. West would have none of this and, cutting everything off, quickly captured the first game 11-4.
The second game went largely as did the first with West capturing the T and refusing to give it up. The rallies were long and ferocious, so much so that at 3-1, West leading, the Harvard player became physically ill and had to retire from the court for the requisite three minutes. West returned to court game but looking a little pale around the gills and settled back in for another series of long rallies. There were few if any spectacular shots throughout but both players showed little inclination to put the ball away. Harrity was apparently finding an opponent equal to his own conditioning. Never ahead throughout the game, Harrity was gaining as he brought the score to 8-10 before West dropped to the left front corner and Harrity was unable to reach the ball.
The third game showed what Harrity, undefeated in the two previous seasons as a junior player, was made of, but it cost him dearly. He came on the court with a scowl and was determined to not let a single shot get by him. The rallies were very long and the points evenly split. Harrity won the game on a let point as West left a volley a little wide and Harrity moved in for the kill holding his shot until the last minute. 11-8 for Harrity.
The final game of the West/Harrity match was anti-climatic as Harrity had expended all of his energy on the court in the previous game. West, seemingly impervious to extended running rallies kept all of his drives tight to the wall and his drops picture perfect, closing out the game 11-3, to earn the his slot in the final.
With both finals opponents having had only a brief rest between the semi and final matches, it was obvious that the advantage of the Letourneau/West match would go to the two time defending Champion West who had a considerably shorter semi final than Princeton’s Letourneau. The advantage became more obvious as play started. West ran off 7 quick points before Letourneau ever got into the game. At this point Letourneau tried to turn up the heat, volleying well, keeping West off the T and gaining 3 points in the process. The outcome of the game, however, was never in doubt as West, looking fresher with every shot, forced the Princetonian behind him and nicked and dropped his way to win the game 11-6.
The second game showed a revived Letourneau at the outset. The Princeton junior, however, could not match West’s pace and with the score 2 all dropped the next 4 points to the Crimson onslaught. Gaining only 2 more points in the game, Letourneau was unable to call on his legs for any more and despite valiant efforts watched the game fall away from him, 11-4, as West executed perfectly.
The last game was expectedly and mercifully quick. Letourneau was clearly exhausted while West’s summer training and racquet work propelled him forward. The defending champion had the challenger on the defensive throughout and at 6-2, simply shifted into overdrive. The rallies were long but West could and would not be outplayed. He held Letourneau time and time again and when his tired opponent made his move, cross footed him with powerful wrist shots – memories of Adrian Ezra come to mind. In the end West closed out the game in magnificent form at 11-2, holding the ball for the longest time possible, then stepping into the shot looking as if he were going to drive it to the back hand corner. Instead, he deftly dropped the shot into the forehand corner and Letourneau was unable to get anywhere near the ball. Game, match and the Championship went to the Harvard senior and three-time All-American, Colin West, for the third year in a row, a feat accomplished only by another Harvard great, Adrian Ezra in the early 1990’s.
In the First Round Consolation, Frankin & Marshall’s Gabriel de Melo won over Thomas Mattsson of the University of Pennsylvania 11-7, 6-11, 11-4, 11-8. On the way to the final de Melo had defeated USC’s JP Rothie in 5 and Yale’s John Fulham in 3 games. Mattsson had met and defeated the Country Club of Virginia squash professional Gus Cook in 3 and Rochester’s Andres Duany in 5 games.
The Second Round Consolation was won by Rochester’s fast-rising second-semester freshman, Beni Fischer, in a fabulous four-game match again Yale’s team captain, Todd Ruth, 10-12, 11-6, 11-7, 11-5. In reaching the final, 2nd Team All-American Fischer defeated Cornell’s #1, Alex Domenick, in 3 games. Ruth achieved the final by defeating Rochester’s All-American Hameed Ahmed in a crowd rousing five-game match.