New Haven, CT — Yale University defeated the University of Rochester 5-4 to win the Potter Cup and the 2016 Men’s National Team Championship.
Yale’s presence in the final wasn’t much of a surprise. After all, the Bulldogs were seeded second in the tournament, they had home court advantage, and they had won the Ivy League title, going undefeated in league play.
They didn’t, however, have a perfect record. In January, the Bulldogs lost to Rochester, 4-5, and then lost Trinity, 1-8, a few days later. With those two teams on the opposite side of the draw, it seemed likely Yale would likely have to face one or the other to win the national title. Indeed, both Rochester and Trinity advanced to the semifinals; Rochester defeated Penn 8-1 in the opening round, and Trinity won 8-1 over Columbia.
The smart money would have been on Trinity, the defending national champions who had appeared in the Potter Cup finals every year for almost two decades. Sure, Rochester had beaten Yale, but the Yellowjackets had never made it out of semifinals.
Yale advanced to the finals with an 8-1 win over Dartmouth in the opening round and a 6-3 win over St. Lawrence in the semis. It looked like the stage was set for a rematch of the 2011 Potter Cup final, when Trinity defeated Yale, 5-4, at Harvard, or the 2010 final, when the two teams faced off at Yale, with Trinity again taking the win.
Then Rochester did something they’d done only twice before in program history: they beat Trinity. And they did it in the most dramatic fashion possible, with Tomotaka Endo winning 12-10 in the fifth with the overall match tied 4-all. For the first time ever, Rochester would have a shot at the national title.
The final opened with an a cappella rendition of the national anthem. Yale captain Sam Fenwick and Rochester co-captains Neil Cordell and Ryosei Kobayashi introduced their line-ups.
The final was played using the three-court system, with the numbers 3, 6, and 9 matches going first. The first round match-ups were Arjun Kocchar (Yale) versus Meng Xiaomin (Rochester) at number 9; Max Martin (Yale) versus Aria Fazelimanesh (Rochester) at number 6; and Fenwick (Yale) versus Cordell (Rochester) at number 3.
The first two games of day were split between Rochester and Yale. Kochhar took game one at number 9, and Cordell claimed game one at number 3. Fazelimanesh also won his first game at number 6.
Cordell ticked off the next two games to win a contest of senior captains, 3-0, giving Rochester the first point. Minutes later, Martin came back from being down 0-1 to win the number 6 match 3-1. Martin raised his fists above his head and roared when he won the match; Fazelimanesh’s teammates consoled him on the court after Martin exited.
The match score was now tied 1-all.
As Kochhar stepped back onto court for game three, the crowd greeted him with cheers. Xiaomin had been closer in the second game, but Kochhar had still prevailed 11-8. Xiaomin went out to a quick lead, but Kochhar closed the gap, and the match stayed close through 10-all. With match ball to Kochhar, the two players dueled through a seemingly endless point. Kochhar went short, and Xiaomin’s lob went out of the court. Kochhar clenched his fists and yelled in triumph; Xiaomin bent over, his head down, his hands on his knees. The crowd chanted, “Arjun! Arjun!” Yale now had a 2-1 lead.
In the second round, Kobayashi (Rochester) took on TJ Dembinski (Yale) at number 2; Lawrence Kuhn (Rochester) played Thomas Kingshott (Yale) at number 5; and Benjamin Pitfield (Rochester) faced Liam McClintock (Yale) at number 8.
Kuhn outlasted Kingshott 12-10 in a tight game one at number 5. Dembinski and Kobayaski were locked in a close, physical game one of their own. At 10-all, Dembinski’s follow-through hit Kobayashi in the face. A few points later, Kobayashi dove for a point, recovered it, but missed Dembinski’s next shot. At 12-all, Dembinski bumped into Kobayashi, sending him to the ground. Kobayashi won the point and pumped his fists from his seat on the ground. After a brief stoppage of play at 13-12 to Kobayashi, Dembinski tied it 13-all. Kobayashi took the next two points to win the game 15-13.
McClintock won the first game at number 8, and Kingshott rallied to win game two at number 5, tying the score 1-all. Kingshott followed that up with an 11-8 win in game three. Meanwhile, Dembinski won game 2 against Kobayashi, tying the score 1-all.
In the number 8 match, McClintock and Pitfield split the first two games. The next two were all McClintock, and his four-game win gave Yale a 3-1 lead.
Kobayashi won game three decisively, and he won game four by almost as wide a margin. His 3-1 victory at number 2 kept Rochester within a match of the Bulldogs. The score was now Yale 3, Rochester 2.
Kuhn forced a fifth game against Kingshott. The Yale sophomore held a slight lead throughout the game. Kuhn was a tireless retriever, making some great gets, but Kingshott, buoyed by the crowd, had the edge. One of Kuhn’s shots popped out of front corner, coming straight to the middle of the court, setting up Kingshott and ultimately giving him match ball. Kuhn won the next point rolling a shot out of the nick, bringing the score to 9-10. Kingshott moved him around the court. Kuhn dove to get a short ball, but he missed. Kingshott tossed his racquet and screamed. Yale now was within a match of the national title.
The third and final flight featured match-ups between Pierson Broadwater (Yale) and Michelangelo Bertocchi (Rochester) at number 7; Endo (Rochester) and Kah Wah Cheong (Yale) at number 4; and Zachary Leman (Yale) and Mario Yanez (Rochester) at number 1.
Early in the final wave, Yanez won his first two games at number 1, and Bertocchi won game one 13-11 and game two 11-7 at number 7. With the outcome of Yanez’s match against Leman seemingly a foregone conclusion, the crowd shifted to the other two courts, leaving the number 1 match sparsely attended. Yanez did, indeed, win in three.
In game three of the number 7 match, Broadwater opened up a lead over Bertocchi, but the Rochester sophomore caught him at 9-all. The next two points were Bertocchi’s, as was the game.
The match was tied 4-all going into the number 4 match.
With no more matches left on court, the crowd pressed in around the glass court where Cheong faced Endo. Between rallies the crowd alternated between chants of “Let’s go, Endo!” and “Let’s go, Kah Wah!” depending on who had won the last point. Cheong won the first game at number 4 by a score of 11-9. He went out to a lead in game two, but Endo caught him by 7 all. Cheong tinned three points in a row to give Endo game ball, but the Yale junior saved it and brought the score to 9-10. Endo rolled a volley kill to win the game. The crowded erupted with “Let’s go, Endo!”
The drama intensified in game 3. Cheong again built an early lead, which Endo again erased by 7-all. At 9-7, Endo backed into Cheong and hit a corner, giving him game ball. Cheong caught Endo at 10-all, and he thought he had the game at 12-10. Endo called Cheong’s shot not up, and the referee agreed. Cheong, who had left the court thinking he had won, came back on and play continued. At 13-12 to Endo, the Rochester sophomore lunged into a split, missing Cheong’s drop. Cheong got to game ball when Endo’s shot to the front corner popped back at him. Cheong took the next point and the game, 15-13.
Game four was close through 5-all, then Cheong started to build a small lead. He reached match ball at 10-8 on a crisp forehand drive that had proved reliable — and unreturnable — throughout the match. Endo prolonged the match through three let balls, holding off Cheong as long as he could. Then Cheong rolled a hard forehand volley. Endo lunged for it, but the ball skittered across the court, unreturnable. The Yale team rushed onto the court, surrounding Cheong. With his 11-8 win, Yale had won the national title.
Yale is led by head coach Dave Talbott, associate head coach Pam Saunders, and assistant coach Lewis Walters. This is the Bulldogs’ first national title since 1990 and their third title in the nine-player team championship tournament era.