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Mark Talbott a Stanford Cardinal
July 14, 2004, By Rob Dinerman and Ron Beck;
SquashTalk Independent News Service © 2004

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Coach of Reigning National Women's Champs Assumes New Challenge on the West Coast

Mark Talbott becomes Stanford Director of Squash

Newport, RI — SquashTalk has learned that Mark Talbott, 44, the greatest American squash player in history and for the past six years the head coach of the Yale women's team that rapidly improved under his tutelage and won the 2003-2004 Ivy League and Howe Cup national team championships, has resigned his position at Yale effective July 1st, and will immediately take on the role of Director of Squash at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

His older brother Dave, a 21 year veteran of the Yale Squash program, has come to agreement with Yale under which he will add the Women’s Coaching job, at least for the next season, to his long-time role as Yale Men’s Coach.

Mark leaves in his brother’s care a program that moved from sixth in the 1998 season to first in the 2004 season, went undefeated last season, boasts the national intercollegiate champion (Michelle Quibell) and is packed with underclassmen.

DEFIES CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
Mark Talbott, who has never been constrained to do things everyone else’s way, but instead has created his own path of excellence, has again defied conventional wisdom. In leaving behind an undefeated national championship squad and dynasty in the making, Mark is again carving his own path. Mark, who has an intensely private and personal side to him, told SquashTalk that he was making the move for family and lifestyle reason. To anyone who knows Mark, he radiates his strong dedication to his home and his family as much as his pride in his squash accomplishments.

In the letter he recently wrote to the Board members of the Skillman Associates (Friends Of Yale Squash) apprising them of his decision, Talbott made it clear that he felt that he needed to make the move to the west coast to provide an essential change for the upbringing of his children, both of whom are currently dealing with health issues.

BIG BOOST FOR WEST COAST SQUASH
Mark Talbott’s move to the west coast could have the most long term significance for USA squash of any of his prior career achievements. Ever since the USSRA took the National Championships west, for the first time, to Portland Oregon in 1979, the US squash community has been challenged by the opportunities and obstacles involved in making squash a truly nationwide sport. The west coast has always had several strong programs, especially in Seattle around Jusef Khan’s entrepreneurship and coaching acumen, and in Portland around Khalid Mir’s and Gulmast Khan’s capable programs. In recent years, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Irvine, and San Diego have become squash centers, but Mark Talbott’s arrival brings a whole new excitement to possibilities for the sport throughout the entire region. As evidenced by the ongoing success of the National Training Center that he conceived of and created a decade ago at St George’s School in Newport Rhode Island, as well of course as the success he enjoyed as the coach at Yale, where Mark goes, good things happen for squash.

Certainly the Stanford club squash programs, heretofore solid but unremarkable and mainly focused on beating Cal Berkeley, can be expected to improve rapidly. Stanford’s men's team was handily defeated by the Yale women's varsity during a west-coast swing last winter. Now with Talbott's quiet insistence on excellence and proven ability to recruit, and with Stanford’s tradition of athletic/academic prominence, the Cardinal have a very real opportunity to become the first major intercollegiate squash power not based on the east coast. The Stanford move may encourage the developing University of Washington club program to foray into intercollegiate play as well as put some new energy into the long time program at Cal Berkeley, and the new program at University of Utah. It will remain to be seen whether Stanford sees fit to elevate squash from a club to varsity sport under the tenure of their new all-star coach.

Old and New: Mark Talbott's National Championship Yale Squad last winter visited Stanford's Men's Team, who he now moves on to coach. Photo © 2004 Yale Squash


Meanwhile, it will now be in Mark’s brother David’s hands to capitalize on Yale's returning women’s powerhouse in its attempted defense of the national regular season and postseason national titles The Yale women dramatically wrested from Trinity's two-year grasp last winter with a pair of thrilling 5-4 dual-meet and Howe Cup final-round victories last season. Trinity, Harvard, and Princeton will all be working to challenge Yale’s dominance next season.

In making this significant career move, Talbott will be opening a new chapter on playing and coaching careers that are resplendent with success. After winning the U. S. Juniors in '78 and spending the next two years playing the international game overseas, Talbott returned to the U. S. in time for the opening of the 1980-81 World Pro Squash Association (WPSA) hardball circuit, in which he finished ninth, won WPSA Rookie Of The Year honors and gave signs of what was to come by defeating top-five-ranked Clive Caldwell, Michael Desaulniers and perennial No. 1 Sharif Khan to win a late-season tour stop in Washington. His break-out 1982-83 season featured an appearance in all 17 ranking tournament finals (losing only two of them) and launched a full decade as the No. 1 North American hardball player during the peak competitive period of that version of the game.

SPARKLING RESUME

Mark Talbott in one of his famous battles against Jahangir Khan,
photo © 2004 Squashtalk archives.

Highlighting this extended period were a sweep of the four Grand Slam events (the Boston, Canadian and North American Opens and the WPSA Championship) in 1988-89; his title runs in the '83, '86, '89, '91 and '92 editions of the North American Open, considered at that time the Wimbledon of squash; the four consecutive WPSA Championship crowns he won from 1987-90, the last of which constituted his 100th career WPSA ranking tournament win, a figure that no one else has even approached; his epic 18-16 in the fifth final-round conquest of 10-time British Open champion Jehangir Khan in the '84 Boston Open; several S. L. Green U. S. national softball titles and membership on a half-dozen U. S. international teams, on most of which he played at No. 1; and the several-dozen professional doubles tournaments he won as a top right-wall partner, first of Peter Briggs's in the mid-1980's and later of Gary Waite's in the late 1990's.

Mark Talbott was always a superb sportsman on and off court,
photo © 2004 Squashtalk archives.

By that time, and although he was already involved in running the Talbott Squash Academy from his and wife Michelle's home base in Rhode Island, Talbott had in the autumn of '98 been appointed the head women's coach at Yale, moving to New Haven and joining his older brother Dave, who was beginning his 16th year as the men's coach. While his wife, an internationally acclaimed cellist, continued her musical career as a performer in Southern New England, the younger Talbott gradually transformed what during the several years before his arrival had been a middle-of-the-road squad into one of the contending teams in the Ivy League. Top recruits were eager to seize upon the chance to be coached by such a squash icon, and after barely falling short in a 5-4 defeat in the '03 Harvard meet to determine that year's Ivy League champion, the Yale women swept the board this past season.

THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON
In posting their first undefeated season in well over a decade, the Elis barged their way to the Ivy League title and were paced by No. 1 Michelle Quibell's four-game win over two-time defeending Intercollegiate Individual champion Amina Helal at No. 1 in defeating a Trinity team that had whitewashed them 9-0 in the '03 Howe Cup final. Quibell's sophomore classmate Amy Gross at No. 2 played the heroine's role in the Howe Cup final with Trinity when she rallied from two games to love down against her heavily favored opponent Lynn Leong, the Individuals finalist in '02, and stormed through the final three games to the raucous approval of the Yale crowd that jammed the Brady Center all weekend. Then, just one week later, Quibell capped off Yale dream season when she dominated the '04 Individual championships at St. Lawrence, overwhelming Helal in a three-game final and becoming the first Yale player since Berkeley Belknap 13 years ago to win the individual crown.

It was a triumphant culmination to Talbott's six years of dedicated service and seemingly the start of a several-years Yale run, especially given the loss of three of the best Trinity players, including Helal, to graduation.

In letters sent out this past week to the Board of Directors of the Skillman Associates (Friends Of Yale Squash) by both Mark Talbott and Skillman Associates President Charles Kingsley, it was clearly noted that Talbott's decision to leave was not in any way related to any dissatisfaction with his employment at Yale; indeed, Talbott has characterized this past season coaching the championship squad as "the greatest experience I have ever had in squash"---a remarkable statement in light of his glorious playing career---and it is known that Thomas Beckett, Yale's Athletic Director, went way beyond the normal efforts in trying to convince Talbott to stay at Yale.

NEW CHALLENGES
However alluring the challenge of lifting the Stanford program from its current standing to the elite ranks (and in the process possibly elevating the other west-coast squash-playing colleges, which include Cal-Berkeley, UCLA and USC), the predominant reason for the move clearly lies in the health and educational priorities of his two children.

Talbott has already moved his family back to Rhode Island, where they still have their home and where he will complete the several remaining weeks of junior squash camps at the renowned Talbott Squash Academy before his planned move west early this autumn.

YALE LEGACY
Although with typical modesty Talbott noted in the last line of his letter that it "has been a great honor to have been part of the Yale tradition of greatness," the truth is that it has been YALE'S honor to have been part of the Talbott tradition of greatness, a tradition that includes not only Dave's 21 years (and counting) of outstanding service as Yale's men's coach, but also their grandfather, nicknamed Bud, who was an all-America offensive tackle and team captain in 1914, the maiden season of the famed Yale Bowl; their father, Doug, Yale '46, a highly successful heart surgeon and a fixture for years on the WPSA tour and at USSRA age-group events; their uncle, Bud Jr., also a Yale alumnus; and their cousin, Strobe, Yale '69, who later became Assistant Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, Strobe's roommate when both were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford during the early 1970's.

That family tradition of stellar citizenship and achievement at Yale was significantly enriched and enhanced by Mark Talbott's tenure there throughout the past half-dozen years, during which he became known for playing with his charges at any time of the day or evening that their hectic school schedules allowed, and during which the teams he led became known not only for their on-court excellence but also for their sportsmanship and their dedication to the program. Though Talbott has made the painful decision to leave behind the formidable program he largely created for the noblest of reasons and with the full support of a Yale squash community that understands the need for any responsible parent to put the highest priority on his children's health and well-being, there is no doubt that his loss will be sorely felt in New Haven this upcoming season and for years to come.

Dave Talbott, shown here with famous Yale Booster and squash giant Treddy Ketchum, now handles both Yale's Men and Women.
photo © 2004 Debra Tessier.

 



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