While most of the student body headed home or decamped to more luxe locales for the first weekend in February, varsity squashers took a different path. Their destination: Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. Their mission: compete in the U.S. High School Championships.
Odds were long at the start as both teams had earned a promotion to Division III, based on their strong seasons thus far. (Boys won Division IV in Philadelphia last year, and the girls have generally been placed into that same bracket.) But the Bears were committed to the fight and to enjoying their time together at Wesleyan.
Both teams got started at noon on Friday. The boys ran into a buzz saw against The Hill School (PA), who ended up playing all the way into the Division III final. Berkshire got wins from #6 Karan Dhiman and #7 Steve Garofalo but couldn't get on the board at the higher levels. 5-2 loss overall.
The girls, meanwhile, faced a strong club from Episcopal (VA). #2 Kate Whitman, #3 Amanda Miller and #4 Elise Johnston earned great wins and gave the Bears a shot; #1 Mia Lake and #6 Schuyler Coughlin went to four games each but couldn't force a fifth. The end result was a 4-3 loss that felt pretty good given Episcopal's 1-4 seeding vs Berkshire's 13-16 placement.
In the evening session, the boys squared off against Packer (NY). The New Yorkers proved strong at the top while the Bears showed their mettle at the bottom, getting second wins from Garofalo and Dhiman while adding a tally from #5 Cooper Pearce. #3 Burnham Johston dropped a gut-wrenching five gamer marred by bloody shins and contested calls. Closer overall at 4-3, but not enough to get in the win column as a team.
The girls would fall by the same margin in the nightcap, this time battling against Westminster (GA). The scoreline was similar to the opener: victories at #2-4 and competitive play at top and bottom yet no clear indication of where that fourth win might come from.
Halfway through the event, it wasn't clear that the Bears could win anything on the weekend. Berkshire rolled into the Saturday session after some good team meals and a healthy night's sleep, ready to reverse the trend.
The boys came out with guns blazing against Millburn (NJ). #1 Hussien El-Desouky battled all the way to the fifth frame but came up just short while #2 Andrew Patty fell in three. But that was the extent of the damage from the Jersey boys as Johnston and #4 Tad Koenigsbauer joined teammates Pearce, Dhiman and Garofalo in the win column. This strong 5-2 performance proved to be their last match as Masters School (NY) had withdrawn prior to the fourth round.
Sensing a similar opportunity, the girls locked horns with HLM (PA). While Lake fell to another strong #1, #2-4 continued their winning ways. They were joined by #5 Rylan Kennedy, #6 Coughlin and #7 Maddie Devost. This convincing win justified Berkshire's placement in Division III and left the Bears hungry for more. Sadly, it was to be the last team win of the weekend as St Luke's (CT) proved too strong at the top. The Bears won at 3, 4 and 7 and got close at #2.
"We had a slow start to the weekend and didn't capitalize on some early opportunities," observed Coach Perkins. "Our Saturday match against Millburn was, by far, our best effort and hopefully will give us some momentum heading into the final few weeks of the season."
The teams were upbeat by the end of event and pleased to get back to campus in time to watch a famous Wesleyan graduate (and squash enthusiast) lead his own team to success (yet again). Both squads are back in training this week, with several key matches in the coming weeks. They will head to the New England Interscholastic Squash Association tournament on the weekend of February 23-24. Boys will compete at Phillips Academy - Andover [MA] while the girls do battle at Pomfret School [CT]). Results will be posted via Twitter @BerkshireSquash and US Squash's ClubLocker page.
Thanks for Kirk Koenigsbauer P '18 & '20 for boys photos. Thanks to Pearce, Patty, Garofalo, Koenigsbauer, Johnston, Whitman, Coughlin and Miller families for their support at the event.