By Jasper Turner
Boys Varsity Head Coach
During this year's long winter weekend, Berkshire's boys varsity squash team traveled to Philadelphia to compete in the 2018 U.S. High School National Championship, the largest squash tournament in the world. Despite missing our No. 6 player Kevin Rhee, the Bears entered the tournament hopeful against the No. 5-8 seeds in Division IV. That required a win in the first round around against Conestoga High School (Berwyn, PA), a local independent school and, after a few early tournament jitters, win they did with a 6-1 opener. After settling down, all the Bears put forth a strong effort with No. 1 through 5 all winning in three games. A win meant the Bears could spend some time away from the courts that afternoon so we took a brief trip to see some of the historical sites in the city of Brother Love, including a fantastic 15-minute tour and lecture of Independence Hall that team captain Peter Koenigsbauer '18 described as a "perfect summary of the first semester of my AP Gov. class."
Win or lose, we knew we'd play two matches on Saturday. Our early match against No. 2 seed Mercersburg Academy (Mercersburg, PA) looked like it would be a nail-biter. Cooper Pearce '21 dropped his first two games 12-14 and 3-11 but then, through sheer grit, found his rhythm and came back to win the third game 12-10 and take the next two to notch a big win for the Bears. Peter Koenigsbauer maintained his 3-0 performance, quickly dispatching the No. 2 player from Mercersburg and a fellow Eaglebrook alum, to put the Bears up 2-0. We split our next matches with Mercersburg with No. 5 Andrew Patty '20 falling to his opponent in a close battle and No. 1 Hussien El Desouky '19 notching a big 15-13 win in the fifth game to bring the Bears match score to 3-1. No. 3 Jacob Shaffelburg '19 and No. 6 Tad Koenigsbauer '20 stepped up next and with great length and well played short games, both won 3-1. That cemented the victory for the Bears but left Karan Dhiman '19 on court at the No. 4 spot to finish the match. He lost in five games in a closely contested match to a strong Mercersburg opponent, and I was worried the game may have drained Karan's energy for our afternoon match. Because we were on a two-court system, our matches often exceeded the two hour mark and this set a record for us as we played for close to 2 hours and 45 minutes.
After a quick shower and lunch, the Bears were back at the court that afternoon to take on St. George's School (Middletown, RI). It turns out we didn't need to worry about fitness as the Bears took down the Dragons 6-1. Despite being in the same league, we rarely get to face St. George's, so it was fun to see a fellow NEISA team from the eastern side of the region. The Bears were efficient with our No. 2, 4, 6, and 7 players all winning in three games.
Saturday's afternoon win left the team with an opportunity to compete for the Division IV title. After a good day's rest and our first real sleep-in, the Bears prepared themselves for a 2 p.m. battle against Episcopal High School (Alexandria, VA). Both teams were eager to compete. At No. 7, Pearce couldn't find his length or typical tightness and lost in three games to give Episcopal an early edge. The No. 2s were locked in a battle as Koenigsbauer went up 11-8 but then lost the second game 14-16. On a third court, No. 5 Patty was starting to really find his depth and shot-making talent and went up quickly 11-7, 11-7, only to fall in the third game 9-11. With the No. 2s still battling, Patty won the fourth game to give the Bears their first victory of the day. After some incredible points, Koenigsbauer lost the fifth game 10-12 to give Episcopal a 2-1 advantage heading into the second round of matches. No. 6 Tad Koenigsbauer was first on in the latter group, and he won the first game 11-9 only to drop the next two 9-11, 8-11. It looked as though the match might be slipping away from the Bears as Tad stepped on court for the fourth game. As was evident throughout the match, this was going to be a team effort and with his teammates rallying around him, Tad managed to win the next two games 11-8 and 11-9. That brought the match score to an even 2-2 and left the Bears with a fighting chance as the No. 1s and No. 3s continued to battle it out. No. 3 Jacob Shaffelburg played fantastic squash, using his athleticism and endurance to push his opponent to all corners of the court, but despite taking the second game, lost 1-3. On the show court, No. 1 Hussien El Desouky was locked in a tough match. After winning the first game 11-3, Episcopal woke up and pushed Hussien to earn a 12-10 victory in the second game. With emotions beginning to run high, Hussien remained calm and, with a perfect forehand volley nick, took the third game 16-14 to win the match. That left the two teams all tied up at 3-3 as the No. 4s went on court. After drawing even at 1-1, Karan Dhiman found his stride and began to cut off any errant shots, forcing his opponent to work ever harder to keep the ball in play. After winning the third 11-6, and with both schools cheering their respective players on, Karan won the match for the Bears with a calm and centered performance to take the fourth game 11-8.
The victory earned the Bears the 2018 Division IV U.S. High School National Title along with a banner and bowl to be kept at Berkshire. The weekend was truly a team effort with each player contributing multiple wins throughout the tournament. Though no one was undefeated throughout the entire weekend, each player managed to play his part when it counted most. As we say at the end of each practice, we are a family, and it was evident on the courts that the Bears have truly embraced this mantra. Thanks to the Koenigsbauer, Shaffelburg, and Pearce families for their support throughout the weekend. It was great to have such fantastic parental support. Thanks to all the families for sharing their sons with the team over long winter weekend for what I hope will forever be a wonderful memory for these young men. The Bears are looking forward to hanging their new banner in the squash courts this winter, and I know are now eager to continue to add to it.