Presented For The First Time: A History Of Yale Women's Squash During The Mark Talbott Coaching Era (1998-2004)
by Rob Dinerman

Rachita Vora, Ruth Kelley,Abby Epstein, Lindsay Schroll, Gina Wilkinson, Devon Dalzell, Lauren Doline, Mark Talbott, Abbie Mcdonough, Michelle Quibell, Frances Ho, Amy Gross
photo: Lauren Doline

April 17, 2017

Mark Talbott has just completed his 13th year as the head coach of the men's and women's teams at Stanford, where he led the Cardinal women to a fifth-place finish at the Howe Cup this past winter. Prior to moving to California, he coached the Yale women's team for six years. This article chronicles Talbott's tenure at Yale and the run the team made to the 2004 Howe Cup in Talbott's final year in New Haven.


    One of the game’s most iconic figures and unique personalities, and without question the greatest all-around player in the history of American squash, Mark Talbott took over the Yale women’s program at a time when its Big Three rivals Harvard and Princeton had been dominating the league for more than a decade and led the Elis in 2003-04 to their first undefeated national-championship season in 18 years. In so doing he became one of only two people (Demer Holleran is the other) to both have had a lengthy run at No. 1 as a player and led a college team to the national title as a coach. There are reasons why this playing/coaching “double” has occurred so rarely, foremost of which is that becoming a champion athlete in virtually any sport – none more so than squash --- requires levels of intensity and egocentrism that does not mesh well with coaching, where it is important to leave one’s ego out of the interaction with the player in order to allow the player to work out his/her destiny free from the pressure of having to live up to the coach’s expectations or accomplishments.

    In Talbott’s case, the list of accomplishments even before he arrived in New Haven was both multi-front and enormously long. Born in April 1960 in Dayton, Ohio, the fifth of six children, he grew up in a house that had a tennis court on the property and a hardball squash court in the basement. One had to go through a room in the house’s lower level called The Cabin that had stuffed animals and muskets hanging from the walls, then climb down a ladder with a pulley to enter the court and push the ladder back up so that it wouldn’t interfere with the play. Lacking the presence of a coach or squash-playing role model to emulate when he started hitting the ball alone in that court as an eight year old, Talbott didn’t have anyone’s playing style to copy, so he just learned the game on his own, mostly predicated on getting a lot of balls back. When the family moved to Baltimore when he was 13, Talbott was joined by his brother Dave, eight years older, who had been the No. 1 player at Deerfield Academy in the late-1960’s and a finalist in the New England Interscholastic tournament in 1969. Their frequent practice sessions, along with the twice-weekly (on Tuesdays and Thursdays) trips they would make to Annapolis to practice with the Navy team (Dave would play with varsity members while Mark would usually practice with the plebes), improved Mark’s game enough to garner him four US Junior titles, two in the Under-17 followed by two in the Under-19, during the five-year period from 1975-79. In the final round of the last of his title runs in the Under-19’s at Jadwin Gymnasium in Princeton, in an early sign of a characteristic that would surface again and again during Talbott’s pro career, he rallied from a two-love deficit to overtake Bryce Harding in five games.

   After graduating from Mercersburg Academy, a prep school in Pennsylvania, in June 1978 and briefly attending Trinity College that autumn, Talbott spent the next year and a half in, sequentially, Detroit with Dave (who at the time was the head pro at the Detroit Athletic Club) and his wife Anne and daughter Shannon, then South Africa, England and Scotland. He then moved permanently back to North America, alighting in Toronto during the summer of 1980, just in time for the start of the 1980-81 World Professional Squash Association (WPSA) hardball season. Trailing fellow debuting WPSA tour rookie Rob Dinerman 12-7 in the fifth game of a first-round match in the season-opening tournament in Rochester, Talbott conjured up an 8-1 match-ending run to rescue that game 15-13, then re-entered the court just 90 minutes later and out-played WPSA top-10 Larry Hilbert before losing to No. 1 seed Sharif Khan in the quarter-finals. Throughout that season, Talbott learned his way around the tour, his progress greatly abetted by the multiple practice games he arranged almost every day with the several top players who were based at clubs in Toronto at the time. Clive Caldwell (Cambridge Club), Gordy Anderson (Squash Academy) and Sharif Khan’s younger brother Aziz (Toronto Cricket Club), all ranked in the WPSA top 10, were frequent practice partners for Talbott, who often would drive from one club to another in a small pick-up truck. In the back portion of the truck, he and his brother Dave, who had worked for awhile as a carpenter, built a small room resembling a doghouse in appearance that was largely constructed from the maple wood boards that had been left behind when the Detroit Athletic Club replaced some of its squash courts a few years earlier.

    The room had a cot, a small stove and a heater, and during his first four years on the tour Talbott was able to drive it from one WPSA site to another, since many of the venues (among them Philadelphia, Rochester, Kitchener, Cleveland, Boston, New York, Greenwich, Rye, Toledo, Atlantic City, Montreal, Detroit and Toronto) were located in the continent’s northeastern corridor. Talbott consistently made the quarters or semis that autumn and winter prior to a breakthrough late-March performance at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington DC where he rocked the squash world by defeating four of the top-five ranked players (Caldwell, Stu Goldstein, Michael Desaulniers and Sharif Khan) to win the tournament, thereby moving him from the mid-teens of the WPSA standings to No. 9 and earning him WPSA Rookie Of The Year honors at season’s-end.

   Talbott built on this springtime 1981 burst with a solid second season in which he advanced to the top five, then made a quantum leap the following 1982-83 season, during which he vaulted to No. 1 (where he remained all the way through the 1991-92 season, save for a brief occupancy of that spot by Jahangir Khan in 1984), reaching all 17 WPSA tour finals and winning 15 of them. During his extended skein of excellence, Talbott won well over 100 singles tournaments (more than four times as many as his nearest pursuer) and became the only player ever to win all four of the WPSA Major Awards: Rookie Of The Year in ’81, Doubles Team Of The Year with Peter Briggs in ’84, Player Of The Year in ’83 and from 1986-92, and Man Of The Year in ’85. He was also selected for the prestigious President’s Cup by the US Squash Racquets Association (USSRA) in ’89, and earned pro hardball squash’s Grand Slam in 1988-89, when he swept to victory in all four of that season’s major tournaments, namely the Boston Open (which Talbott won three times), the Canadian Open (three times), the North American Open (five times) and the WPSA Championship (five times), the only player to win each of these events in a single season. His ’89 WPSA Championship triumph completed not only that Grand Slam but also a family “double,” coming as it did in the wake of the WPSA Legends event (for players age 35 and over) that his brother Dave, who in 1983 had moved his family from Detroit to New Haven to become the head coach of the Yale men’s squash team, had captured earlier in the day.

   More importantly, Mark Talbott’s impact on the WPSA tour far exceeded these record-shattering on-court achievements. His gentle demeanor and personable manner, so rare in an individual sport where the physical and mental demands are as high as they are in squash, endeared him to the squash-playing public and even to his professional colleagues, and his sportsmanship level was so high that it actually shamed the rest of the WPSA tour players into following his example. Known in his first few years on the circuit as an exceptional retriever who, however, was said to lack the firepower to rise to the top, Talbott steadily increased the cumulative offensive pressure he put on opponents, not with any thunderbolts in his racquet but rather by keeping his drives consistently crisp and low and tight on the wall, by increasing his volleying prowess, by making very few loose, sloppy shots and even fewer errors, by sharpening up his front-court game (especially the double-boast he had developed by the mid-1980’s), by upping his conditioning level to the highest on the tour, and by “tightening the screws” at the end of a close game to the point where winning a rally against him at that juncture became an excruciating assignment. His success quotient in five-game matches and in games that went to a tiebreaker was over 90%, and there were a number of eleventh-hour final-round comebacks that consolidated Talbott’s reputation for never being out of a match, no matter the score. In January 1985, Talbott was down quadruple-match-ball to Ned Edwards before rallying to 18-17 in the fifth game of the Greenwich Open, then went from 7-12 to 15-13 in the fifth against Edwards at the next event in Rye, and in the ’87 Canadian Open he surmounted an 8-1 fifth-game deficit and won 18-14 against Todd Binns.

     In addition to his unprecedented hardball singles exploits, he won the North American Open Doubles a total of four times (including three-straight from 1997-99 with Canadian star Gary Waite) and captured the S. L. Green US National Softball championship in ’90, ’91 and ’93. He was named captain the first US team that competed in the quadrennial Pan Am Games in ’95 while playing on a half-dozen US teams in the biennial World Team Championships, almost always at No. 1, including as late as the ’97 event, by which time he was 37 years old. He was also the recipient of the Sharif Khan Sportsmanship Award in ’91. Never before, or since, has this plentiful a combination of awards for stellar play and good citizenship been bestowed upon one person, and it is therefore no surprise that Talbott was literally a first-ballot USSRA Hall of Famer, having been inducted along with 14 others in the first year of the Hall’s founding in 2000.

   By the early 1990’s, the WPSA had been absorbed by the softball squash organizing body, the Professional Squash Association, and hardball pro and even amateur squash, which had seemed to be on such an exhilarating ascent throughout most of the 1980’s, was with alarming swiftness fading into oblivion. A hardball tour that at its apogee less than a decade earlier featured more than 25 events per season all over North America, a half-dozen of which were played on a portable three-glass-wall court in hotel ballrooms, movie theaters and other public spaces, was down to four small-purse tournaments in its last full season in 1994-95, by which time Talbott had finally been displaced at the No. 1 slot by the much-younger Waite.


  As the hardball tour was starting to decline in the early-1990’s, Talbott began to switch his main focus from playing to coaching junior players in the international (i.e. softball) game. In the summer of 1992, he opened the Talbott Squash Academy by inviting the eight top-ranked junior boys and eight top-ranked girls to a two-week camp at the Newport Squash Club, which for many years had been a stop on the WPSA tour under the ownership of Sam Jernigan, whose oldest son Kenton had been a top-five WPSA player (one of Talbott’s foremost challengers during the WPSA tour’s final few years) and the winner of the 1991 WPSA Championship. The campers slept in the dormitories of the nearby University of Rhode Island. The Academy was so successful in its first few years that Talbott was appointed by the USSRA to serve as its National Director Of Junior Development in 1993 and then made head coach of the National Men’s Junior team one year later.

   In 1996, the Talbott Squash Academy dramatically expanded, due in large part to a meeting that Talbott had with the administrators at the St. George’s School, a prep school in Newport, who had already been planning to build squash courts on their campus. Mark’s involvement and his prominence in the squash community helped St. George’s raise the necessary $1.25 million to build a complex consisting of eight international courts, and that summer there were 165 attending juniors over a six-week period. There was a further expansion the following summer to 240 attendees, overseen by a staff that had expanded as well by then to include two head coaches, five assistants, two-off-court trainers and his father, Dr. Doug “Doccy” Talbott, who had established a substance abuse clinic in suburban Atlanta when the family moved there during the early 1980’s.

  When long-time Yale women’s squash coach Dale Phillippi Walker retired after the 1997-98 season, the 18th in a tenure that had included three Howe Cup titles (1983, 1986 and 1992) emblematic of the women’s national team championship, Talbott, allured by the prospect of joining his brother at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium and of taking on the challenge of restoring glory to the Yale women’s squash program, applied for and very shortly thereafter was offered the position by Athletics Director Thomas Beckett. At the time that he arrived on campus with his wife, Michelle Djokic, a noted concert cellist whom Talbott married in 1989, and children Maya, age seven, and Nicholas, age five, in tow, Princeton, led by its veteran coach Gail Ramsay (a four-time Intercollegiate Individuals winner herself) was the reigning two-time Howe Cup champion, having wrestled away that trophy after its five-year captivity under Bill Doyle’s Harvard troops from 1993-97.

   The University of Pennsylvania, coached by six-time U. S. National champion Demer Holleran, was a rising power (which would win the Howe Cup in 2000 for the only time in the school’s history) and all three of these teams white-washed Yale 9-0 during Talbott’s 1988-89 rookie coaching season (with Harvard not dropping a single game in any of the nine matches), as did Trinity College. Yale’s top four players that year, all returnees from the 1997-98 team that had gone 3-3 in the Ivy League, were senior captain Carla Shen, the team’s MVP in ’98, junior Loren Smith, who as a high-school senior at Rye Country Day had won the ’96 New England Interscholastic title, senior Marion Ringel, like her classmate and roommate Shen an alumna of the vaunted Heights Casino Club junior program in Brooklyn Heights,  and sophomore Catherine “Cat” Fiederowicz, who had posted a team-best 9-3 record the previous season in the aftermath of winning the New England Interscholastics as a sophomore at Deerfield Academy in ’95.

   This quartet played valiantly all season, as did the underclassmen in the lower positions in the starting nine (namely freshmen Colleen Terry and former Taft captain Kate Sands at Nos. 5 and 8 along with sophomores Jen Field, Thea Handelman and Betsy Cleveland at Nos. 6, 7 and 9), but they were overwhelmed by the vastly superior talent of the top-tier teams and wound up finishing seventh in the season-ending Howe Cup tournament. It should be noted, however, that even as his powerful squad  was demolishing Yale and thereby clinching the 1999 Ivy League crown, Coach Doyle, who was completing his seventh and final season at the Crimson helm, later commented how impressed he was with how much calmer and more focused the Yale players’ self-presentation had been compared with prior years, and how much more bonded together they seemed as well, and he knew even then that Talbott was going to make Yale into a legitimate contender before too many more years had passed.

   The team had arrived in Cambridge the evening before that match and had been treated to a sumptuous dinner at the Blue Ginger Restaurant in Wellesley, which was owned by Talbott’s brother-in-law, the renowned chef Ming Tsai, a former Yale all-Ivy squash player, Class of ’86, who had been coached at Yale by Dave Talbott and had later married his and Mark’s younger sister Polly. The following afternoon at the Murr Center, Smith was accidentally but forcefully jolted in the mouth in her No. 2 match against Crimson captain Brooke Herlihy and the Yale coaching staff discovered that she had lost a front tooth from Herlihy’s inadvertent blow, causing Smith to default the match. The tooth was found near the tee and Smith was rushed to a dentist back in New Haven, since she was scheduled to have an interview for a summer job that Monday and was hoping that the tooth could be restored in time for the interview. In the end, this attempt failed and Smith had to go in for the interview with a quite visible gap where the tooth had been, but she DID receive the job offer she had been seeking and was also elected captain for the 1999-2000 campaign, during which Talbott’s first recruit, Gina Wilkinson, a Michigan native who had played for three prep-school years at Hotchkiss and had been nationally ranked in the top 15 in the Juniors, swiftly progressed into the top three of the lineup behind Smith and Fiederowicz.

   The team got two significant boosts that season, one of them expected, long in the works and permanent, the other “out of the blue,” spontaneous and disappointingly transitory. The first was a significant expansion of Yale’s array of international courts and the second was the midseason arrival of a star player the likes of which Yale squash hadn’t had in nearly a decade. At the time that the college squash association had voted to switch from hardball to softball during the first half of the 1990’s, Yale had no international courts, and indeed the Skillman Associates (the Friends Of Yale Squash, the squash program’s alumni/ae fundraising body) had barely finished paying out the substantial costs associated with the American-court expansion of the late-1980’s, when everyone involved had understandably but incorrectly believed that hardball would be the college game forever. In response to the change, the Shen Wing was dedicated in 1996, named in recognition of a substantial gift from Theodore P. Shen ’66, Carla’s father, whose financial contribution led to the creation of six international courts, one of which was a three-glass-wall arena.

   That number grew dramatically when Nicholas F. Brady, captain of Yale’s intercollegiate championship 1951-52 team and later the Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush, spearheaded the addition of nine international courts, one of them with three glass walls and one of them with FOUR glass walls, which was officially dedicated prior to the start of the 1999-2000 season. As a result of this pair of major expansions, which combined cost seven million dollars, the completed Brady Squash Center, consisting of 15 top-of-the-line international courts, including one four-glass-wall court (the Brady Court), two three-glass-wall courts (the Shen and Lenfest Courts, the latter in honor of Chase Lenfest ’86) and 12 glass-back-wall courts, is widely regarded as the premier squash facility in America and has hosted far more national championships than any other venue in the country.

   Team morale rose even further after the Christmas holiday break when second-semester sophomore Laura Keating, the 1998 Australian National Junior champion and a quarterfinalist in the ’97 World Junior Championships, transferred from the University of New South Wales and strode directly to the top slot in the Yale lineup, where she immediately made an impact by scoring a four-game win in her Yale debut over Trinity’s top player Janine Thompson. Keating then almost led Yale to what would have been a breakthrough victory in early February at Jadwin against Princeton, the two-time defending Howe Cup champion and a 9-0 winner over Yale one year earlier. The No. 1 Tiger player, Julia Beaver, the 1999 Intercollegiate Individual champion, had to miss that meet due to a leg injury, and Keating, after splitting her opening pair of games with Meredeth Quick (later a three-time U. S. Nationals finalist and three-time U. S. National Doubles champion), won both the third and fourth games 9-0. Yale also got wins at the Nos. 6, 8 and 9 slots from junior Jen Field and sophomores Sands and Caroline Thompson respectively, leaving the outcome to the No. 7 match between Handelman and her Princeton opponent Jen Shingleton, who was able to avert the upset by eking out the third game 9-7 and the close-out fourth 10-9.

   Bolstered by what had become a powerful top three thanks to Keating’s presence – with Smith and Fiederowicz correspondingly moving one spot down and hence having more favorable match-ups with their respective opponents --- Yale swept those top three spots against Harvard, with Keating’s straight-game win over all-American Margaret Elias marking the first time that Yale had taken the No. 1 match in the  dual meet with Harvard since Berkeley Belknap had defeated Jordanna Fraiberg nine years earlier in 1991 en route to becoming the first Yalie to win the Individuals at the end of that year. Harvard wound up winning 6-3, but Yale had commanding leads in two of the remaining matches (the freshman Wilkinson had a third-game match-ball against Ella Witcher at No. 4 before losing that game 10-9 and the fifth 9-7, and at No. 7 Handelman was up two games to one before faltering in the final two games) and therefore would have actually won the meet had both of its players been able to convert those mid-match advantages. The team did finish fifth in the Howe Cup, partly on the strength of a 6-3 win over a Dartmouth team that had beaten Yale 5-4 earlier in the season before Keating had arrived on the scene. Her strong play throughout the second half of the schedule and undefeated performance during the Howe Cup tournament caused Keating to enter the season-ending Individuals at Williams College as one of the pre-tournament favorites, but she fell just short in five games in the final against the successfully defending 1999 champion Beaver.

  Keating and captain Smith were named co-winners of the Most Valuable Player Award at the team banquet that spring. Smith had first run into Talbott more than a dozen years earlier when, as an eight-year-old, she attended a clinic for beginners at the Apawamis Club in Rye that Talbott, who was in the midst of his prime years atop the WPSA tour, ran at the invitation of Apawamis  head pro Peter Briggs, Talbott’s doubles partner at the time. A framed photo of Talbott posing with Smith that day hung in Smith’s room at home throughout the years that followed ---until her graduation day in May 2000, that is, when Smith gave the photo as a gift to her extremely grateful coach, as a means of conveying how much he had meant to her during her final two years at Yale. Smith also worked with Sam Chauncey, a former Secretary of the University and a long-time supporter of Yale squash, to donate an aluminum Bulldog to the Brady Center. In her capacity as team captain, she had driven to the airport in January to pick Keating up at the airport after her 18-hour flight to welcome her into the program.

   Everyone else had done what they could to make Keating feel welcome as well, and she had been a model teammate, humble and supportive (though a bit quiet) and seemed to be enjoying herself, which is why both her decision during the summer of 2000 to remain in Australia rather than return to Yale in the fall, and the way she conveyed it, constituted such a letdown. When Talbott --- who had lobbied hard for Keating’s admission, had spent more time on court with her during their half-season together than he had with any other player and had personally driven her to Williamstown for the Individuals tournament --- had gotten wind that Keating might not be returning and reached her by phone, she had been curt and defensive in their exchange, following which she sent him a terse email confirming her decision. She did subsequently write the team a sweet, sincere and supportive letter in which she thanked the players for their time together and wished them well going forward. In her and Smith’s absence, the Eli 2000-01 squad featured a top four consisting of captain Fiederowicz at No. 1, Wilkinson at No. 3, and two freshmen, namely Devon Dalzell at No. 2 and Abbie McDonough at No. 4, who that season and during the years that followed would have a profound effect on the program. Dalzell had actually been BORN in Yale-New Haven Hospital (her father, Fred, a Princeton quarterback during the early-1970’s, had been doing his residency at Yale at the time of her birth), and both she and McDonough had earned top-ten rankings while playing the national junior circuit during their high-school years. Behind this quartet were Sands, Field, Handelman, Terry, Liese Fritze, Sarah Levine, Anna Nordberg and Miriam Fishman, all of them seniors other than juniors Sands, Terry and Fishman.

   In early February, Dalzell earned a five-game victory at No. 2 over Dartmouth’s Lindsey Bishop, the only Yale win in the top four, in spite of which the Elis prevailed 5-4, with Field also winning in five, 9-7 in the fifth, over Crosby Haynes at No. 6 and her fellow seniors Handelman and Fritze coming through, as did Sands. This result made it that much more painful when Dartmouth reversed that score when the teams met again a few weeks later at the Howe Cup. This time Dalzell again out-lasted Bishop 3-2, Fiederowicz avenged her earlier loss to Big Green No. 1 Sarah West and Terry and Fritze both won at Nos. 8 and 9, but Dartmouth swept the Nos. 3-7 matches, in two cases winning 9-7 fifth games, thereby denying Yale a chance to duplicate their 2000 fifth-place finish and relegating Talbott’s players to a seventh-place play-off with Brown, which they won 5-4 when Fiederowicz out-lasted Avery Broadbent, 9-6 in the fifth game.


   To that juncture, three years into Talbott’s coaching tenure at Yale, the program had shown progress in fits and starts but had not yet advanced in a steady or consistent fashion. Part of the reason was that only a trickle of recruits had heretofore committed to Yale, namely Wilkinson in 1999 and Dalzell and McDonough in 2000. Perhaps it was inevitable that it would take several years for the top junior girls to become convinced that Yale was a good place for them to go and that there was a firm commitment there to build a strong program. Whatever the back story, the trickle was destined to become a flood, beginning with the 2001-02 freshmen class (SIX strong recruits) and extending throughout the remainder of Talbott’s time at Yale and beyond. Frances Ho, though born in Texas, had spent most of her pre-Yale life in Hong Kong, which she represented at the World Junior Girls Team Championships in Malaysia during the summer of 2001, and she played virtually the entire 2001-02 season at No. 1, earning first-team all-American honors and a top-10 Intercollegiate ranking. Lauren Doline, who like McDonough had benefited from the coaching of Geoff Mitchell in his junior program at the Chatham Club in northern New Jersey, and Heights Casino product Sarah Coleman joined Ho, Dalzell and Wilkinson in the top five, while the other three freshman recruits, Philadelphians Lindsay Schroll and Ruth Kelley (the captain of the Episcopal Academy team that won the Philadelphia prep-school league throughout her four high school years) along with Abby Epstein (another Heights Casino product) and the returning letter-winners McDonough and Sands filled the remaining spots in Yale’s much-improved lineup. With a half-dozen seniors having graduated in May 2001 and a half-dozen freshmen replacing them the following fall, it was like the whole team had been re-made in one fell swoop.

   A further factor in this transformation was the role played by Miriam Fishman, the team captain, a walk-on three years earlier whose sole squash exposure prior to Yale had been the practice games she had played on the hardball-sized courts at the University Club of Washington DC. She remembered that when she approached Talbott about trying out for the team during the fall of 1998, “It was his first year as coach, it was my first year as a player, neither of us really knew what we were getting ourselves into and we decided to give it a shot.” Fishman gradually grew as a player and, more importantly, as a leader, and she came into her senior year determined to create more of a cohesive and committed team environment than had existed the previous year, when there had been some dissension among the 2001 seniors. No one was really at fault for the latter situation, it was more that there were some strong personalities among this group and by that juncture a number of them had become understandably frustrated at being stuck in the second echelon of the college standings throughout their college careers. A decade-and-a-half removed from the travails of that winter, most of those 2001 seniors recalled their years playing squash at Yale with fondness and appreciation.

  Realizing that all the new faces provided the opportunity for a fresh start, Fishman made a point of arriving on campus early so that she could personally greet each of the freshmen as they were moving into their Old Campus dormitories, as several of their parents gratefully recalled. She also organized preseason team runs and arranged for team members to have dinner together at Commons after practice. She knew that her plan would only work if the freshmen bought into to what she was advocating (“Otherwise it could have been a disaster” she later noted), but her efforts at “re-working the road map”, combined with the considerable infusion of talent, resulted in a major step forward for the Elis, who compiled an 8-2 record highlighted by the first wins in 10 years over Princeton, a 7-2 thrashing at Jadwin followed by an 8-1 tally in the third-place match at the Howe Cup. The Tigers’ loss of Beaver and Quick, combined with the large strides that Yale had made, accounted for the turnaround, as   did Yale’s sweep through all three five-game matches in the dual meet (with Dalzell, Schroll and Kelley all prevailing at the Nos. 2, 7 and 9 slots), which Fishman attributed at least in part to the “team energy” that had been created by the enhanced team spirit.

   There was even a team mantra that season, “Everybody Needs A Hero,” referring to Talbott, which was emblazoned on the back of tee shirts that were handed out to the team members, featuring a Bulldog leaning on a squash racquet. At season’s end, Fishman received the John Blum Squash Award “presented to that member of the team who, through character, dedication and sportsmanship, has made the greatest contribution to Yale Women’s Squash,” and Ho became the second freshman in as many years (following Dalzell in 2001) to earn Most Valuable Player honors. Beginning with her first home match that season and extending throughout her varsity career, Ho’s efforts at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium were supported by a substantial cheering section of her friends who thronged the gallery and had specific cheers for her, one of their favorites being “F-R-A-N-C-E-S --- you can’t beat her, she’s the best. Frances Hooo! Frances Hooo!”  Their vocal presence noticeably enhanced the energy level at her matches and had an impact on her teammates and on the opposing team as well, to the point where once when Yale was playing an away match, one of the players from the host school jokingly asked Ho where her cheering section was!

   The following 2002-03 season brought two of the long-time crown jewels of USSRA junior squash to Yale in Michelle Quibell and Amy Gross, each a multiple winner of US Junior titles (Quibell had also annexed some Scottish and British Junior crowns) and teammates on the U. S. Junior squads in both 1999 and 2001, as well as Rachita Vora, a national junior team member for India, where her coach growing up was Rehmat Khan, who had been Jahangir Khan’s coach when the latter had his run of 10 straight British Open titles from 1982-91. All three promptly moved into the top tier of Yale’s ladder, with Quibell remaining at No. 1 throughout her sparkling four-year career, followed by Gross at No. 2, Ho at No. 3 and Vora at No. 4.

   Based on her excellent record (a team-leading 11-2, mostly at the Nos. 3 and 4 positions) during her freshmen year, Doline had been expected to vie with Wilkinson (the team’s only senior, and its captain), Coleman and Dalzell for the slots right behind Vora, and she trained especially hard that summer in anticipation of a standout season for both herself and the team. But in October she suffered a burst appendix, which was not properly diagnosed for 10 days, by which time her condition had become serious enough to require emergency surgery and a full month’s hospitalization. During that time her parents traveled from their New Jersey home to New Haven and got permission from the Master at Trumbull College to stay in a guest room there. Mrs. Doline actually slept on a cot in Lauren’s hospital room for the first two weeks and her husband, a retired pediatric dentist, was allowed to audit all of Lauren’s classes and to take notes, which he then would bring back to Lauren so that she wouldn’t fall too far behind in her studies. She still had drainage tubes exiting from her abdominal area for several weeks even after being finally discharged and allowed to tentatively return to practice, and the team welcomed her back in a unique way by taking a team picture on the stadium court in which everyone in attendance, including Talbott, was dressed in blue hospital scrubs! Doline never fully regained her conditioning level or the momentum she had been generating, but she did play in every match other than the preseason Ivy Scrimmages, and to some degree the already-solid team bond grew even stronger as the players rallied around their still-recovering teammate, taking inspiration from her resiliency and her laser focus on team success.

   Yale went 8-1 coming into the mid-February Howe Cup, with six 9-0 scores, including against Princeton, and the only setback coming in Hartford by a 7-2 margin at the hands of a loaded reigning Howe Cup champion Trinity College juggernaut. Quibell, in an early sign of the greatness that awaited her, eked out a fifth-set tiebreaker against 2002 Individuals champ Amina Helal, Wilkinson straight-gamed Clare Austin at No. 6, and both Doline and McDonough pushed their opponents to five games in their matches at Nos. 8 and 9. In the semifinal of the Howe Cup, before a full house at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, Yale not only beat Harvard for the first time since a 5-4 Howe Cup final-round win 11 years earlier in 1992 but routed its Big Three rival 8-1. Anything seemed possible coming into the Sunday summit with Trinity, but the powerful Bantams were at their peak that day, while the Elis,  exhilarated but exhausted both physically and mentally by their exploits the previous evening, were unable to duplicate their semifinal performance and absorbed a 9-0 shut-out.


  That year, and for the final time, the dual meet with Harvard occurred after the Howe Cup tournament, which meant that just four days after defeating the Crimson in New Haven, the Bulldogs had to travel to Cambridge to play Harvard again, this time with the 2003 Ivy League title hanging in the balance, since neither team had lost to an Ivy League opponent that winter. The Harvard players, livid and galvanized by the stinging defeat they had so recently sustained, embarked on a furious albeit time-compressed effort to exact revenge.  Normally the team had Monday off after a full weekend of matches, but in this case everyone showed up for practice early Monday afternoon ready to go, with co-captain and No. 1 player Louisa Hall, who had lost to Quibell in their Howe Cup match, especially revved up. The Yale players, by contrast, had spent themselves by then and had to make do without the crowd energy that had spurred them on at the Brady Courts. There was a combination of over-confidence (several players brought cases of beer onto the bus in anticipation of a celebratory ride home) and concern, especially since everyone realized that the Howe Cup match was actually much more closely contested than the 8-1 score would indicate. Gross had taken a fifth-set tiebreaker against Harvard No. 2 Lindsey Wilkins (the two had had an intense rivalry dating back to their high-school years in Philadelphia) and there were a few other matches that night that could have gone either way as well.

  In recalling their misadventurous evening in Cambridge many years later, several Yale players noted that, even before the match began, “everything was different” from the way it had been when the two teams had met the prior weekend. The courts were different, not only geographically but also in how they played --- the Yale courts were active and lively, rewarding the deep game and long, attritional points, while the Murr Center courts were better suited to shot-making, and at Harvard a drive that caught a side wall would come much further out into the middle, making the stroker more vulnerable to having a let-point called against her. The crowd allegiance, of course, was also different, and so, as noted, were the teams’ respective mind-sets in the wake of the Howe Cup result. This became even more the case when Harvard got off to an early lead by swiftly winning a few of the “evens” matches that had landed in Yale’s column a few days earlier, thereby increasing the pressure on the odd-numbered Yale players and making them realize that they had no margin for error and that they HAD to win their matches for Yale to gain possession of the Ivy League crown, which it had last won 17 years earlier in 1986. It should be remembered that the Yale team, though highly talented, was also still very young, with three freshmen and one sophomore filling the top four slots, and the magnitude of the moment bore heavily down on them as the meet progressed to its riveting culmination.

   With all that said, Yale still had a chance to win all the way till the end in a competition in which the lines between these two teams were starkly drawn, with the Lady Bulldogs sweeping the Nos. 3-6 spots  without losing a single game. But Harvard sophomore Stephanie Hendricks repeated her Howe Cup win over Ruth Kelley at No. 9, and Wilkins roared out of the gate and never looked back in recording her first-ever victory over Gross. Both the Nos. 7 and 8 matches “flipped”, with Harvard’s Alison Fast reversing her recent loss to Dalzell (who afterwards said she felt like she “had lead in her sneakers that night”) and Crimson co-captain Ella Witcher doing the same against Doline. With the score thus knotted at four matches apiece, the Ivy League championship would be decided by the No. 1 match between the two superstars Quibell and Hall, with both sets of parents present (the Quibells flew in from Atlanta, as they did for big matches during the rest of Michelle’s college career, and Matt Hall, who had played on several Harvard Ivy League championship squash teams during the mid-1960’s, and his wife Anne drove up from suburban Philadelphia). The energy level in that climactic match was extraordinary, both on court and coursing through the gallery, as both players competed at their absolute limit, all the while demonstrating superb sportsmanship in a memorable exhibition of women’s college squash at its best.

   Even in failing to convert a game-ball opportunity in the first game, which she then lost 10-8, Hall was stroking the ball with tremendous authority, and she surged through a 9-0 second game and then from 3-6 to 9-6 in the third. The fourth was close all the way and marked by a number of extended mid-game sequences with no change in the score. Quibell earned an 8-6 advantage but Hall rallied to force the game into a tiebreaker. At 9-8, Hall was unable to convert her first match-ball, but she got the serve back and made good on the second with a forehand working-boast from deep in the right part of the court that a diving Quibell failed to retrieve and tossed her racquet skyward in exasperation. The men’s dual meet that night similarly came down to the No. 1 match, with Yale freshman Julian Illingworth winning in four close games over Will Broadbent to give the Yale men’s team its first dual-meet road win over Harvard in the 42 years since the 1961 Elis had done so, also by a 5-4 tally.

   By midnight, the Harvard women players, jubilant at their victory, and the 10th Ivy League crown in 12 years that it secured, were marking this milestone by joyously “streaking” around a section of Harvard Yard in what would prove to be the last moment of unconstrained celebration for their program for some time to come. The Yalies, by contrast, were sitting, as several of them put it, “in dead silence” as they endured a funereal three-hour bus ride back to New Haven. They felt particularly protective of the freshman Quibell, who was extremely upset and blaming herself for the outcome, even though in truth she had played beautifully against one of the best players in the history of Harvard women’s squash and been right on the brink of forcing a fifth game. Most of the underclassmen, sensing that the Yale program was on the ascent and had great accomplishments on the horizon, felt especially bad for their captain Gina Wilkinson, the only senior in the top 12, who had gone 22-3 over the past two years in the midsection of the lineup, including winning her match that night, and had contributed to the program on so many fronts that in everyone’s mind she deserved to go out as an Ivy League champion.

   Yet as disappointing and chastening as that trip home was, the players who returned the following season, virtually to a person, insist that the whole experience of that night constituted a painful but necessary step FORWARD and that the glorious three-peat championship years that followed actually began during the somber bus ride late that evening of February 19, 2003. All the players remembered how they felt that night, and everyone present resolved that they would never have that feeling again. The very next morning about a half-dozen team members met in front of Payne Whitney Gym for a run through New Haven’s ice-covered sidewalks to Talbott’s house a little over a mile away in the hopes of seeing him, though it turned out that he was away at the time. The run wasn’t really meant as a first conditioning step towards the following season, but rather sprang out of a spontaneous wish to be with their coach, as well as to put what had happened at Murr behind them.

   The team that re-assembled the following autumn, with everyone, as noted, returning other than Wilkinson, was further fortified with Talbott’s third straight outstanding class of incoming freshmen, consisting in this case of New Zealand Junior champion and National Team player Catherine (Kat) McLeod, the first squash player from that country to attend Yale, U. S. National Junior Team players Lauren McCrery (from Wilmington) and Kate Rapisarda (Heights Casino), South African star Nicky Sheils and Exeter’s No. 1 player Katie Mandel. McLeod, who as a teenager would play every afternoon at the Northshore Squash Club in Auckland, where former British Open champion Leilani Joyce and World Open champ Carol Owens frequently trained, had planned to go to Auckland University and play professional squash. But during a summer tournament in 2002 she happened to be sitting at the same breakfast table as Yale No. 1 Josh Schwartz ‘05, who was playing some events overseas to ready himself for the upcoming season, and during their conversation (as well as in a follow-up visit to the McLeod family for dinner), Schwartz convinced her to consider applying to Yale.

  The 2003 World Junior Championships in Cairo ended just as registration at Yale began, so McLeod planned to fly directly from Egypt to Tel Aviv to JFK Airport in New York. But there was a substantial delay at Tel Aviv, causing her to miss her connecting flight and to be stuck there for several additional days, with no means of informing either her parents or Talbott (who had promised to pick her up at JFK and was understandably extremely concerned when he arrived and she wasn’t there) of what had occurred. She eventually made it to New Haven, but her luggage was lost for nearly two weeks, throughout which McLeod therefore was forced to wear her New Zealand track suit, which drew some awkward stares when she showed up for class. Several of McLeod’s fellow freshmen, a number of whom she had already met during the Cairo event or at previous junior tournaments, swooped to her aid, and to some degree the bonding process in that class began in this manner. All of them were grateful as well to Devon Dalzell, the team captain, who contacted each of them in the first few days of classes to give them her cell phone number and let them know that she was available to assist any of them who was having trouble finding their way to class or with any part of the transition to Yale. Throughout the season the leadership that the two seniors Dalzell and McDonough demonstrated was cited as a key part of the tremendous team dynamic that animated the determined march to the championship.

   The 2003-04 season began on a somewhat hilarious note when on October 15th, the first official day of practice, the players and Talbott congregated in a court known as “Siberia,” since it was a stand-alone court located at the very end of a long hallway. The players all loved it when they could get Talbott to do a dance step known as “the shuffle” (one player said when he shuffled it looked a little bit like he was having a seizure!) and on this occasion the whole team was shuffling along with him. Suddenly Dave Talbott and AD Beckett rounded the corner, deep in conversation about some administrative matter. Dave immediately noticed what was going on in the Siberia court and abruptly yanked Beckett back around the corner so that he wouldn’t see it as the players collapsed in hysterics.

   When play began in earnest, the team shot out of the gate. Gareth Webber, an England Squash Level IV Elite Coach and a former Director of the Wales and England National Squads, had joined the Yale program that year as an assistant coach, and his technical stroking expertise was a perfect complement to Talbott’s coaching style, which was geared around playing practice games with his players and stretching their games and conditioning levels. In interviews with the latter group, one player after another marveled at Talbott’s ability to gear his game to be one level above whoever he was on court with, putting the ball JUST within their reach if they tried their hardest to run it down and thereby putting them in a position to explore and expand the limits of their own games. McLeod described the experience as being “incredibly frustrating but also incredible fun,” and Talbott summarized this coaching technique by saying that, “I would always put the ball where they could get it if they ran hard enough and then I wouldn’t make errors. It wasn’t a drill, we just played. I knew it was good for them to try and keep up with me. We did conventional drills like all of the rest of the teams but we also played a lot, which I believe in. My philosophy on technique is very simple: I like to call it the shake and bake! The swing is so simple, racquet ready, elbow in close to the body, swing straight through and just concentrate on taking the ball out in front of you. Then match the racquet snap and release of the forehand to the backhand so they are the same. The older I have gotten, the more I understand and the simpler it seems to me It’s not rocket science, squash is simple. Obviously it helps a lot to be able to move well but it’s all about ball control.”


   Both Quibell and McLeod frequently played with Talbott in the mornings in addition to the team practice sessions in the afternoons, and both were at the top of their formidable games when Yale hosted Trinity on January 21st in the first real test of the season for either team. The matches were closely contested right from the start, to the point where from early on, every time Talbott and Trinity’s long-time coach Wendy Bartlett passed each other as they circulated from one match to the next, they would make comments to each other along the lines of “This is going to wind up 5-4.” The Bantams still had an excellent team but they had lost the Nos. 6-9 players from the year before, all of whom had either graduated, transferred or were abroad, while Yale’s starting nine had gotten even stronger since the teams had last met 11 months earlier in the 2003 Howe Cup final due to the addition of freshmen McLeod, McCrery and Rapisarda at the Nos. 3, 6 and 7 positions respectively. On this day, Trinity swept the Nos. 4-6 spots and got a win at No. 2 as well when Lynn Leong, a former World Junior finalist and the runner-up as well to her teammate Helal in the 2002 Individuals tournament, out-played Gross in four games.

   For its part, Yale swept the Nos. 7 through 9 spots, with Rapisarda, Doline and Coleman winning nine of their 10 combined games (in five of which the opponent scored four points or fewer), and got a straight-set victory as well at No. 3 from McLeod, whose retrieving skills and all-around athleticism were much too much for her Bantam opponent Vaidehi Reddy to handle. This left the team outcome hanging on the No. 1 match between the reigning two-time Individuals champion Helal and Quibell. The latter, like many of her teammates, was infinitely more ready to play a match of this importance than she had been the last time she was in this situation, at the dual meet against Hall of Harvard the prior winter. She had been blessed competitively with a strong mind and an excellent athletic gene pool: her mother, Lana, had reached the top 15 in the world in amateur ballroom dancing representing her native South Africa and later was for many years the squash professional at the Concourse Athletic Club in Atlanta. After learning the basics of the game from her mother, Michelle had received expert coaching during her high-school years from former WPSA pro and several-times U. S. national age-group champion Tom Rumpler, and subsequently had worked as well with Richard Millman. Even back then her exceptional athletic gifts had been apparent, especially in an exercise known as the “beep drill,” in which players sprinted in various directions in response to the dictates of an instrument that made a beeping sound whenever the operator pressed the button. Quibell dominated this drill, demonstrating a quickness off the mark and ability to change direction that was far superior to even the boys in her age category, in addition to which she possessed an intrinsic “feel” for the squash ball and a natural touch with her racquet that few could rival.

   With the learning experiences of her freshman year now under her belt, Quibell came into her sophomore season in general, and the Helal match in particular, much stronger, both physically and mentally, than she had ever been, and after splitting the first two games in front of a packed-to-the-rim gallery she seized the moment by running away with the third and close-out fourth games, 9-2 and 9-3. McDonough vividly recalled what a thrilling and forever-bonding moment it was as she and her entire array of teammates sat on the ground just behind the glass back wall, each of them with her arms linked to the teammates to her left and right, forming a human chain and cheering their best player on as she exuberantly sprinted across the finish line prior to being mobbed by her teammates when they dashed into the court just after the last ball had been struck. Also, it is a telling tribute to the enormous depth of the Yale roster that season, the result of how successful Talbott’s recruiting efforts had been throughout the preceding several years, that there were actually not nine but 16 matches played that day (representing the entire Yale roster), and Yale swept not only the official Nos. 7 though 9 positions but all seven of the matches behind them as well, with (in order of their position on the ladder) Shiels, Dalzell, Schroll, McDonough, Kelley, Mandel and Epstein all triumphing, in each case three games to love.

   This team-wide achievement was celebrated, not only this afternoon but throughout the season, by the numerous sets of team members’ parents who were in attendance so frequently, and with so much enthusiasm, even often at away matches, that they actually became a significant part of the team, and certainly a part of the entire Yale women’s squash presentation. This was especially true of those parents, of which there were quite a few, who were located in the New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia corridor. On weekends when Yale hosted the Howe Cup, several families would arrive Friday afternoon, book a room at the Holiday Inn on Tower Parkway (a five-minute walk from Payne Whitney) and spend the entire weekend, and they would also arrive bearing quantities of food for the players. The Colemans often brought hummus platters, the Dolines prepared sloppy Joes and veggie platters and Jane Dalzell would bake brownies and Y-shaped cookies. After both that ’04 season and the equally-successful 2004-05 season that followed, Marj Coleman created substantially-sized collages of each of those seasons in which she interspersed candid photos of team players with passages from the Yale Daily News articles chronicling their victories. Bill and Susan McDonough hosted a team dinner at their home in Summit, North Jersey, while the team was traveling to an away match at Princeton, and Peter and Susan Gross did the same when the team went to Philadelphia for their match against Penn. Like these sets of parents, the Schrolls and Epsteins were also frequent dual meet attendees, whether at the Brady Center or on the road. That season also witnessed both the creation of tee shirts which announced, presciently as it turned out, “In 2003 We Knocked On The Door….In 2004 We’re Going To Kick It Down,” and the emergence of a pre-match team cheer, “Hoo-ah,” from the movie Scent Of A Woman. As Schroll explained, “It's an army term meaning ‘affirm.’ So when a commander orders you to do something, you say ‘Hoo-ah’ and go do it.”

   In the aftermath of the dual meet win over Trinity, Yale breezed through the remainder of the schedule, handily defeating Harvard 7-2 (with Quibell and Gross out-playing Hall and Wilkins, in each case in four games, as would also happen in Yale’s 6-3 win over Harvard in the Howe Cup semis 10 days later) to clinch the Ivy League title. In the run-up to the Howe Cup there was a team meeting, which gave the upperclassmen the chance to impress on the newcomers the importance of the upcoming tournament, just to make sure that everyone was on the same page and fully committed to the looming stretch run. Almost inevitably, Yale and second seed Trinity marched through the draw to the February 22nd final. Just prior to the introductions, in a marked contrast between the teams’ preparatory approaches, the Lady Bantams lined up on the Brady Court quietly and with serious expressions on their faces as they readied for the challenge ahead, while in the Yale team room, the players were dancing on the couches with their two favorite songs (“Don’t Stop Believing,” by Journey and “Hey Ya!” by OutKast) blasting away in the background, just as they had done a few weeks earlier prior to the dual-meet clash with the same opponent, and just as they did before a number of their home matches throughout that whole season.


  When play began, Trinity again garnered the middle trio of matches, which were balanced by wins from Doline and Coleman at Nos. 8 and 9 and McLeod’s repeat win over Reddy at No. 3. On the Brady Court, Gross fell behind Leong, whom she had never defeated, two games to love and 5-1 in the third, while Rapisarda, who had spent much of the prior week battling a case of the flu that had sidelined her during the first two rounds of the tournament, was forced to deal as well with a pulled muscle in the right side of her rib-cage incurred during a violent coughing spell that made it especially difficult for her to reach up for an overhead volley. Her questionable physical state, combined with the imposing deficit confronting Gross, caused considerable concern within the Yale camp, since the Lady Bulldogs knew they needed at least a split of those two matches for Quibell’s impending match with Helal to make a difference in the team outcome.

  That Gross and Rapisarda would BOTH win seemed improbable at best at this juncture, especially after Rapisarda failed to convert a game-ball in her opening game with Fernanda Rocha and lost 9-8. But the plucky Yale freshman bounced back to take the next two games against Rocha before losing the fourth. Meanwhile, Gross was staging a momentous comeback of her own, forcing her lithe Malaysian opponent out of her comfort zone, eliciting a series of errors en route to an 8-0 spurt that rescued the third game and carried her through the 9-7 fourth. Trinity College’s men coach Paul Assaiante, whose squad was in the midst of a 13-year skein (from 1999  through 2011) of Potter Cup championships, the longest-lasting dynasty in the history of college squash, was in the gallery that afternoon to support Coach Bartlett and the Trinity College women. He later  remarked on the drama and the contrast between the two players, with Leong the quiet, self-contained control player, flitting around seemingly effortlessly  like a graceful butterfly and conjuring up sinewy angles with her deft ball placement, while Gross was the voluble and emotive power player, determination oozing out of every pore, a true Bulldog and never more so than this afternoon. McCrery, watching from the gallery, saw Leong’s resolve gradually melt away as the fifth game wore on to its eventual 9-6 conclusion, and she later described Gross as “a warrior. Every ball was hers and if she didn’t get one the next ball was hers for sure. She simply willed her way past Leong.”

   An ecstatic Gross, whose Summer 2003 decision to significantly upgrade her conditioning level in preparation for her sophomore season found its full reward in her dramatic comeback win over the vaunted Leong, told a Yale Daily News reporter that, “In such a long match I think it comes down to who is fitter and who wants it more. And I really wanted to win.”

  So did both Rapisarda and her fellow freshman Rocha, who by the time Gross-Leong ended were locked in a death-grip and had to have realized how crucial their match had become from the way the number of onlookers suddenly tripled as their fifth game was beginning way down the hallway on Court 12. Rapisarda and her classmate McCrery had formed a special connection during that season in spite of the fact that they frequently opposed each other in challenge matches, and they had spent the evening before the Howe Cup final roaming the campus and reminding their friends to show up the next day. They also had  begun a ritual before big matches of painting Y’s and ‘04’s on each other’s cheeks, and, when an exhausted Rapisarda exited the court after losing the fourth game against Rocha, it was McCrery who tended to her and gave her a rousing “you can do this!” pep talk before the fifth game began. By this time, with the Yale supporters massed on one side of the gallery and the large Bantam cheering section on the other, there wasn’t even a pretext of subtlety, as both players whaled away at the ball in a fifth game that became an endless series of lengthy last-person-standing exchanges that was going to go to the player who was better able to stay focused or who more often was able to power the ball into a deep-court nick and/or avoid errors. Enmeshed in a brutal battle of attrition at a time when she was nowhere near 100%, Rapisarda found herself gasping for breath and leaning on her racquet after almost every point, frequently appearing to be on the verge of complete exhaustion.

   Rocha was clearly feeling the strain as well, and both players responded brilliantly to the mind-bending exigencies of the moment as the game seesawed cruelly along, with the court enveloped throughout that game in a ferocious crowd-reaction din after every point --- until finally Rapisarda was able to torturously boot-strap her way to a 9-5 win that clinched the 2004 Howe Cup crown for the delirious Yalies and reduced the Quibell-Helal match (which Helal won) to a meaningless “dead rubber.”

   Coach Assaiante’s analysis of this pair of climactic matches was that the endings were “like two exhausted heavyweight fighters throwing haymakers in the 15th round. The Trinity players were trying to move the ball around and play classic squash, while the Yale players kept running everything down and hammering away, and ultimately the Trinity players wilted under the Yale physicality.” McLeod, who had scored Yale’s first point of the day and hence had a front-row view as both the Gross and Rapisarda matches reached their culmination, emphasized that if there was a single animating theme of the entire season, it was how bonded together that team was, and that no better expression of that phenomenon existed than what happened during the fifth games of those two matches. “We pulled like crazy for each other,” she said. “We fought like lions for one another. Kate couldn’t breathe, looked ready to collapse, yet she kept playing, kept fighting. There was SO much heart on that team.”

   Quibell and Helal would meet for the final time that season two weeks later in the final round of the Intercollegiate Individual championships at St. Lawrence, where Helal’s attempt for a three-peat would be brusquely denied when Quibell took the first game 9-5, arm-fought her way through the second 10-8 in what would prove to be the defining sequence of the match, and never looked back, racing through the third game 9-3. Quibell had straight-gamed Trinity’s Reddy in her semi, while Helal had done the same to McLeod, who in her quarterfinal match had rallied from two games to love down against Gross.


  With Quibell’s triumph over Helal at St. Lawrence, the Yale 2003-04 season ended with the Elis going undefeated wire to wire, capturing college women’s squash “Triple Crown” (Ivy League title, regular-season national title, Howe Cup title) and returning the Individuals trophy to New Haven for the first time since Berkeley Belknap had won this event 13 years earlier in 1991. It also ended with Talbott writing a letter to the Board of the Skillman Associates in July in which, while announcing that for personal and family-related reasons he had decided to resign his position at Yale, he emphasized what a privilege it had been to coach the finest team in the land. The letter concluded, “I can’t thank everyone enough for the overwhelming support you have shown me and my family over the past six years. It has been an honor to have been part of the Yale tradition of greatness.”

   Ultimately, while Talbott moved on --- and is, as of this September 2016 writing, about to enter his 13th season as the men’s and women’s squash coach at Stanford University in Palo Alto, while still running summer squash camps at the Talbott Squash Academy and at Stanford --- the legacy he established during his tenure at Yale propelled the team (coached that year and up to the present time by his brother Dave, who for the past 12 years and counting has been both the Yale men’s and women’s coach) to a second straight Triple Crown season in 2004-05, which again ended with Quibell capturing the Individuals in a convincing four-game final at Dartmouth over Harvard No. 1 Kyla Grigg. Throughout that match, and especially in the way she dominated the final three games (9-1, 2 and 5) after narrowly dropping the 9-7 opener, Quibell, in a compelling display of the mobility she had first demonstrated in the beep drill a half-dozen years earlier, pounced on every loose ball so early and punished it to such telling effect, that Grigg (who would win this tournament two years later as a senior in 2007) became increasingly overwhelmed by the pace her opponent was setting. Afterwards, Grigg’s Harvard teammate Audrey Duboc, herself a victim of Quibell’s relentless march through that draw in the round of 16, described the final as “a great, great match. Quibell broke Kyla down. She is a steady, focused player who is hard to crack. There is no freebie with that girl.”

    A third consecutive Howe Cup title followed in 2005-06, the only national-champion three-peat in the history of Yale squash, men’s or women’s. Hampered throughout her Yale career by lower-back and upper-leg injuries, Rachita Vora decided to forgo her senior season, but her classmates Quibell and Gross won the deciding matches in Yale’s 5-4 2006 Howe Cup final-round triumph over Trinity College on a day in which Rapisarda again contributed an important victory as well. Quibell’s match with Reddy and Gross’s with Ashley Clackson ended almost simultaneously after Trinity had taken a 4-3 lead. Later that year, Dave Talbott was awarded the prestigious President’s Cup “to the person who has made substantial, sustained and significant contributions to the game of squash,” which had been bestowed on Mark Talbott 17 years earlier in 1989, the only time that two members of the same family have received this award.

   Gross, who during the summer of 2005 won the Individual gold medal at the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel, and her classmate and close friend Quibell were named co-winners of the Special Coaches Award in the spring of 2006 for their career-long contributions to Yale women’s squash. In addition to her formidable on-court accomplishments and the strength of her personality, Gross also was known for supporting, encouraging and inspiring her teammates (who elected her team captain her senior year), including  upperclassmen, and actively helping them improve their games with the coaching tips and in-match advice she frequently provided, while Quibell, named team MVP for the third time in her four years, rebounded from a knee/hamstring issue that had caused her to lose in the quarters of the 2006 Individuals by advancing to the final of the U. S. Nationals (which were held at the Brady Squash Center that year) a few weeks later in her final official appearance on the Yale squash courts. She was also selected as the recipient of the Betty Richey Award, the highest honor in women’s college squash, given to the player “who best exemplifies the ideals of squash in her love of and devotion to the game, strong sense of fairness, excellence of play, contributions and leadership.” Frances Ho had won this award one year earlier, and Elis Kat McLeod and Miranda Ranieri ’08 would receive the Richey Trophy in 2007 and 2008 respectively, resulting in four consecutive years that a Yale player had been accorded this distinction --- never before (or since) had a school been represented on this prestigious list more than two years in a row.

   Quibell played one more competitive season after graduation, during which she earned a spot on the three-person U. S. team that competed in the quadrennial Pan American Games along with Natalie Grainger and Latasha Khan, before deciding to focus on her business career. She is currently a Strategy Program Officer in the field of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. Quibell is Yale’s only two-time Intercollegiate Individuals champion and she is universally, and deservedly, regarded as the best player in the history of Yale women’s squash. Her 2006 classmate Illingworth, who won the first two of his record nine S. L. Green championships (2005-2012 and 2014) during his junior and senior years at Yale, holds a similar distinction regarding Yale men’s squash, and at their graduation ceremony they both  received the highest athletic Award bestowed on a male and female graduating senior respectively, namely the William Neely Mallory Award (for men) and the Nellie Pratt Elliot Award (for women), each of whose inscriptions states that it is meant to go to that graduating senior who both on the athletic arena and in the rest of their lives “best represents the highest ideals of sportsmanship and Yale tradition.” In the history of Yale athletics, this is the sole occasion in which two practitioners of the same sport have both won these awards in the same year.


   Mark Talbott left behind not only an outstanding group of returning players for his brother to coach to further championships, but also a culture that permeated  the entire program and is perhaps unique in the history of college squash. In assessing their years in the program, even from a distance of more than a decade, one player after another cited the depth of Talbott’s commitment, how genuine and warm and caring he was, how he devoted as much time and energy to the players lower down on the ladder as he did to the stars, how he would play with any of them at any time when their academic obligations prevented them from attending the mid-afternoon official team practice. Talbott has been invited to almost every one of his former players’ weddings, and he always sits not with the bride’s parents but with her friends, many of whom, of course, were players he coached. It was largely due to Talbott’s character that, to quote Dalzell, “there wasn’t a single selfish player on the team. Everyone loved Mark and played their guts out for him.” McDonough, whose loyalty to the program was such that Talbott made her the recipient of the Coaches Special Award “to that player who has by her sportsmanship and determination done the most for women’s squash at Yale” after both her junior and senior seasons, exemplified this quality when she was asked what the highlight of her career was. Her remarkably selfless and generous response was that it was not anything that she herself accomplished but rather that the highlight of HER career was QUIBELL’S ’04 dual-meet win over Helal, since that match, in McDonough’s words, “got Yale over the hump” and launched the Elis to the Howe Cup championship(s) that followed. In the spring of 2014, McDonough traveled to Yale for her 10th reunion and visited the Brady Center. The sight of Marj Coleman’s collage of the 2003-04 season (which was hanging on a wall near the courts), and the memories it evoked, caused her to “dissolve in tears” as she relived her experience of that magical season.

   Ultimately, probably the best summation of Talbott’s coaching career at Yale, and of how revered and beloved a figure he was to his players and to everyone associated with the program, was provided by Gina Wilkinson, Talbott’s first recruit and the captain of the 2002-03 team.  Asked to discuss some specific matches that took place during her time at Yale, she instead responded, “The real story is not this match or that match, but rather that one of the most legendary athletes in the history of the world came to coach women’s squash at Yale. In what other sport does the number one player in the world for 12 years running coach a college women's team? Mark came to Yale's program at a time when it wasn't thriving and didn't have a reputation for being a competitive team. Why did he do it? Not for accolades. Mark is the most humble, positive and selfless person I've ever met. That's who he was as a coach too. He wasn't a hard-driving leader. It was through his quiet strength and his example that he grew the program to the best in the country.”

   “He transformed the program just by being Mark Talbott. He attracted the top players through his reputation and relationships and motivated us all to work our hardest, because we wanted to do it for him and for our teammates. He was still in incredible shape and worked out the hardest of all of us. ‘Everyone needs a hero’ referred to Mark, who was not only our coach but also our hero --- it was part respect and part complete adoration for such an important and successful person in our sport.”

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I would like to thank the Skillman Associates and its President Zerline Goodman ’84, for authorizing this project, as well as current Yale men’s and women’s coach Dave Talbott for coordinating it. I am especially grateful to the many Yale women’s players during the Mark Talbott Coaching Era who enthusiastically granted interviews, as their reminiscences and memories are the essence of this document. They are, in order of their year of graduation, Marion Ringel Panas ’99, Carla Shen ’99, Loren Smith Dinger ’00, Betsy Cleveland Fenzel ’01, Jen Field ’01, Liese Fritze Brown ’01, Catherine Fiederowicz ’01, Thea Handelman ’01, Anna Nordberg ’01, Miriam Fishman ’02, Kate Sands Mascarenhas ’02, Gina Wilkinson Olsen ’03, Devon Dalzell Layedra ’04, Abbie McDonough ’04, Abby Epstein Schumer ’05, Lauren Doline Feigenblatt ’05, Frances Ho ’05, Ruth Kelley ’05, Lindsay Schroll ’05, Amy Gross ’06, Michelle Quibell ’06,Rachita Vora ’06, Lauren McCrery ’07, Catherine “Kat’ McLeod ’07, Kate Rapisarda ’07 and Nicky Shiels ’07. Thanks as well to Trinity College head coaches Paul Assaiante and Wendy Bartlett; to Tom Rumpler, head squash pro at the Windy Hill Athletic Club in Atlanta; to former Harvard head coach Bill Doyle; to Josh Schwartz ‘05, captain of the 2004-05 Yale men’s team, and to Lisa Tilney ’93, who served as a volunteer assistant coach to the Yale women’s team from 1998-2001 while pursuing a Masters in Architecture at the Yale School of Architecture, all six of whom provided valuable background information and perspective. Lastly, I appreciate the contributions of Yale “squash parents” Marjorie Coleman P ‘05, who invited me to her home so that I could view the collages she created of the 2003-04 and 2004-05 championship seasons; Drs. Fred Dalzell P ’04 and Stuart Doline P ‘05, for the interviews that I had with them; and Paul Rapisarda P ‘07, for arranging to send me some extremely helpful articles about that era.

Rob Dinerman ‘76