Hanover, NH — Millie Tomlinson of Yale defeated Laura Gemmell of Harvard 3-0 to win the Ramsay Cup and the 2011 women’s college squash individual national championship.
Gemmell, the defending Ramsay Cup champion, had faced increasing pressure coming into the match. The Toronto native had yet to lose a match in two years of intercollegiate play, and as the Crimson’s number 1 player, she had faced the top intercollegiate players for two seasons.
Compared with last season, Gemmell’s performance this year had been slightly less dominant. However, her 2009-2010 season would be a hard one to match: as a first-year player, Gemmell didn’t drop a single game before the individual tournament. It wasn’t until last year’s Ramsay Cup final that Gemmell was truly pushed. Trinity’s Pamela Hathway took Gemmell to five games in a remarkably — and somewhat unexpectedly –close match. Playing at Trinity, Gemmell showed her mettle by fighting back to win the last few points of the fifth and final game of the championship match.
As a defending individual — and team — champion, Gemmell had been playing this season with a target on her back, and her opponents had gamely stepped up to the challenge. She was untouchable during the first part of the season, but after winter break she had several tests. Nabilla Ariffin of Penn and Julie Cerullo of Princeton each won a game off of her, and Catalina Pelaez of Trinity took her to five in early February. At Howe Cup, the women’s national team championships, Gemmell had a competitive four-game match with Pelaez in the semifinals, followed by a long five-gamer against Yale senior captain Logan Greer in the finals. Greer, the 2011 Richey Award winner, gave it her all in an attempt to secure the national title for the Bulldogs, who eventually went on to win the match 5-4. As in the Ramsay Cup final the year before, Gemmell showed her ability to dig in during a close, pressure-filled situation, and came back with the win.
Tomlinson had had a dominant season of her own this year. After losing her first match of her collegiate career to Yarden Odinak of Penn, she never looked back, winning all of her other matches in three. Throughout the season, Tomlinson, of Derbyshire, UK, had been a rock, turning in commanding performances at crucial moments for the Bulldogs, including the 5-4 wins over Harvard that clinched the Ivy and national titles for Yale.
Despite her strong play all season, Tomlinson was something of a question mark coming into the individual tournament, where she was seeded seventh. There was a sense that no one in college squash had yet seen her best play. Tomlinson primarily played number 2 for the Bulldogs, though she also played number 3 a few times and played number 1 against some lower-ranked teams. She had the benefit of playing behind Greer in the Bulldogs’ lineup. While Greer was not invincible at number 1, the senior captain was a strong leader for the Bulldogs, used to playing in the spotlight after four years at the top of line-up. Sarah Toomey, another accomplished Yale senior, consistently turned in strong performances either just before or after Tomlinson, taking off some of the pressure.
Gemmell had advanced to the final with a 3-0 win over Princeton’s Alexandra Sawin in the opening round. Jaime Laird of Cornell gave her a bit of a run for her money, winning the second game in the quarterfinals, but Gemmell followed that up with two solid games to win the match in four. She defeated Cerullo in three in the semifinals. Tomlinson had advanced to the finals with a series of convincing 3-0 wins over Jackie Moss (Princeton), Pelaez, and Nirasha Gurgue of Harvard.
Today’s match began with Tomlinson jumping ahead to a quick 4-1 lead in the first game, with both players winning on shots with good length to the backhand. Tomlinson reached 10 first, but Gemmell came from behind to even the score. Tomlinson took the first game 12-10.
Tomlinson again jumped to the lead in the second game, winning nine points before tinning on the forehand to put Gemmell on the board. Gemmell earned two more points with boasts to the forehand, but Tomlinson came back strong to win the game 11-3.
The third game opened with Tomlinson running up the score with a series of deft shots to the front. At 7-2, Gemmell began to stage a comeback, winning points with more aggressive play and some good gets. After Tomlinson hit a drive out of court, the score was tied 9-9. Tomlinson had more success going short to move the score to 10-9. The players then played a total of six let balls, each rally opening with a sustained exchange of drives. After the sixth let ball, Tomlinson, who had been composed throughout the match, banged her hand against the door. She served and answered Gemmell’s cross court with a forceful forehand drive. Gemmell tinned a boast, and with that Tomlinson was the 2011 Ramsay Cup champion.
Gail Ramsay, the Princeton coach and four-time individual champion for whom the Ramsay Cup is named, presented the finalist trophy to Gemmell and the Ramsay Cup to Tomlinson.
A month ago, Tomlinson wasn’t planning to compete at the Individual Championships. Yale’s spring break starts this week, and her family had booked her a flight home this weekend. Seeing how strong Tomlinson was playing, Yale coach Dave Talbott convinced her to change her flight to Monday.
Now she’ll have a championship trophy to bring home with her.