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Clark, Welch Lead Harvard Club to MSRA Women's A Finals

by Rob Dinerman © 2002

April 4, 2002 © 2002      

Blair Clark's 9-3, 4 and 4 win last night over the Princeton Club's Blair Irwin gave the Harvard Club A Team a victory over their one-block-south neighbor and rival in the 2001-2002 New York Metropilitan Squash Racquets Association (MSRA) A League play-offs.

There are three matches to a team meet, and Clark's win at No. 1 followed her teammate Libby Eynon Welch's triumph, also in three games, at the No. 2 position one night earlier over Irwin's Tiger teammate Elise O'Connell, thereby giving the Crimson alumnae the requisite two team wins that sealed the outcome and reduced Monday's scheduled match at No. 3 between Sue Rose of the Harvard Club and Sascha Greatrex to a "dead rubber."

The Harvard Club thereby moved to the final round of this year's play-offs, where they will face the winner of the balancing semi-final meeting between the Uptown Racquet Club and Heights Casino, who were supposed to also play this week but which has now been delayed until next week, with the final scheduled for April 17th.

The men's final between the Yale Club, 2-1 winners over the University Club last week, and the Harvard Club, which whitewashed the Lincoln Club 3-0, will take place on the 18th at the Yale Club, where in mid-February the Harvard Club won their regular season meet, two matches to one, in an evening marked by controversy and some bad blood between the two sides, perhaps a carry-over, even all these years later, of the college rivalry that has always existed between these two parent institutions.

Welch and Clark were teammates in the mid-1990's at Harvard, as were Irwin and O'Connell one student generation later at Princeton, where their teammates included three-time Intercollegiate Individual champion Julia Beaver, who missed this past season for medical reasons, and Meredeth Quick, who recently reached the final of the USSRA National Women's Open softball title in New Haven. In her 9-5, 5 and 4 win over O'Connell, Welch showed the ball control and stroking prowess that had brought her to the '95 Intercollegiate title.

Clark's win, by contrast, was more a by-product of her court coverage and athleticism, which enabled her to gain early leads in each of her games with Irwin, who seemed to be having difficulty keeping her rail tight to the wall on the active Harvard Club court. Clark turns her shoulders beautifully before delivering her swing, especially on her backhand, and this may have contributed to how effective she was throughout the 25-minute match, beginning right with the opening point, on her working boast, which often had Irwin leaning too far to the left for her to be able to recover and retrieve. Irwin did score with her straight drop shots, but Clark spent much more time at the tee and her lobs and crosscourts often landed unretrievably in the back recesses of the court.

The match ended quietly on a sharp Clark rail that sped past Irwin and caught a nick near the back wall. In contrast to the two Harvard Club wins on their home territory, the only competitive match of the play-offs so far came at the University Club, whose No. 2 man Ben Elias extended his undefeated league season by soundly defeating Yale's Peter Withstanley but whose fate was sealed when Sanjay Nayar was unable to cash in on a two games to one lead he enjoyed over Alex Luchars at No. 3.

Nayar had lost his regular-season match vs. the Yale Club's Elliott Berry, who had rallied from a 2-0 deficit and won in five, but against Luchars, he seemed to be in control with a mid-match spurt over his much-older foe, who won the first game and led in the second but seemed to hit a wall at that point. Nayar overcame his second-game deficit and raced through an easy third over Luchars, who had missed much of the season with arm and knee problems and who appeared spent at the break after the third game.

But Luchars relentlessly plowed through the fourth and fifth games against Nayar, who by the fifth game looked like he was having flashbacks of his late-match collapse against Berry three months earlier and who tinned heavily in the late stages of his five-game defeat. Luchars's comeback nullified Withstanley's loss and put the team outcome onto the shoulders of John Musto, who was looking to repeat his regular-season win over University's Ryan O'Connell.

The latter had split the first two close games of that prior match before Musto had dominated the 9-1, 9-0 remainder, and his memory of the fatigue that had doomed him back then may have played a role in the risky shotmaking tactics that he resorted to for most of this rematch, with predictably unsuccessful results. The tin he committed on an attempted cross-court drop winner on the match's very first serve proved a harbinger of the course of the entire match, which Musto won in very swift and decisive fashion, a far cry from the very intense nature of the first two games of their league match.

Musto has toughened up his game with several top-flight tournament forays since then, including the S. L. Green championships, in which he placed a praiseworthy seventh, while O'Connell had just played in the USSRA National Doubles event and clearly was not in top softball form.

Squashtalk will provide full coverage of both the Men's and Women's final, as well as a summarizing report on the entire MSRA season.

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