Repeat Winners Abound at US Championships
Preston Quick, Latasha Khan, and ten others re-stake their claims
With each passing year, hundreds of would-be national champions spend countless hours training for their moments in the sun. Through lessons, drills, leagues, and tournaments, players at every level of the game work to push themselves just a little bit further in hopes of cashing in with silver hardware to place on their mantels. This year, nearly 400 such individuals journeyed to the Pacific Northwest in mid-March where the Seattle area hosted the US Championships and Skill Level Nationals for the fourth time in 15 years.
Since Seattle first held the softball nationals in 1989, the population in the Puget Sound region has grown by over 400,000, and squash has grown tremendously as well. In 1989, Seattle sported five international courts. This year, the two host clubs—the Seattle Athletic Club-Downtown and the Pro Sports Club—provided 17 international courts between them along with their full-service health club facilities. And for as much as the world outside of the Pacific Northwest believes it rains everyday in the Emerald City, nary a drop of the wet stuff has fallen during any of the National events hosted in this seemingly soggy metropolis. Locals will be quick to remind lucky visitors, however, that it really does rain constantly (i.e., there are enough of us here already, so don't even think about relocating).
The tournament itself was structured a bit differently this year. Unlike years past, draws started and finished at whichever of the two clubs they were assigned, rather than bringing all of the finals to the Seattle Athletic Club-Downtown for five hours of finals in one location. While logistically this format resulted in players knowing exactly where to be for their matches, many found it disconcerting that it was impossible to follow matches in other draws with which they had interest. In addition, some scheduling and seeding oddities also resulted in a controversial start to the event. For example, Richard Elliott, two-time 35+ Champion and twice a runner-up, was unseeded this year. The reason given by a USSRA official was “he didn't have enough ranking points” to be seeded. Chris Burrows, on the other hand, has been plagued by injury for nearly two years and has rarely played an event outside of Nationals but was seeded No. 1 in the 50+. In addition, several of the higher-level draws, including the Men's 30+, Men's 5.0, and Men's 5.5, had second round matches scheduled to be played just two hours after the completion of their first round battles.
On the women's side of things, the total number of entrants was down considerably from past years. After the disappointment expressed by many of the Howe Cup participants last fall (also held in Seattle), many of the women who might have entered apparently decided to stay home. Unfortunate for them because the local organizers, Shabana, Ayub, and Azam Khan provided an excellent variety of amenities from food and drink to social events on Friday and Saturday. And, as always, the Seattle Athletic Club-Downtown and the Pro Sports Club lived up to their reputations as premier squash facilities on the west coast.
In the end, 31 divisions overcame the early scheduling hiccups and played themselves out over four days (five if you include the first matches of the SL Green Men's Open played on Wednesday).
The two marquis divisions—Men's and Women's Open—saw the same results as last year. Preston Quick, again the No. 2 seed behind Damian Walker, laid claim to the winner's trophy with relative ease. Just a year ago, Quick and his family had narrowly escaped devastating injury in a head-on collision during the Nationals weekend in Hartford. Despite whiplash and bruises from his seatbelt, Quick shocked Walker in a come-from-behind thriller to win the title. This time around, Quick methodically worked his way through the draw, including a convincing semifinal win over Jamie Crombie (6, 6, 0). While most expected Quick to face Walker in the final, St. Louis-based teaching pro Michael Puertas threw his hat in the ring after surviving matchball against Walker in the fourth game of his semifinal before winning 9-4 in the fifth.
But the effort expended by Puertas in his semi proved his undoing in the final. With both Quick and Puertas playing patiently and stretching each other over the entire court, the first two games were won by whomever could string two points together. For Quick, his turn came in the first (9-7) while Puertas took the second (9-5). Though even at one game apiece, the third game (on top of the work Puertas put in the day before) decided the match. The decisive third game lasted nearly 25 minutes, with both players forcing the pace and finding deeper length and shorter drops. While Quick reaped the rewards by capturing the third 10-9, Puertas experienced leg cramps that led to his demise in the fourth; he bowed out 9-0.
In the Women's Open division, there was little doubt that Latash Khan would win. Khan, four-time Open Champion, has spent the past year rededicating herself to the game with more off-court training. The result is that she is quicker around the court, hits the ball with more authority, and cuts nearly everything off. Her WISPA ranking has climbed back into the top-20 and, last fall, she won the Pan-Am Games gold medal. Though she dropped a game to Michelle Quibell in the Open semis, that was the only bump on her highway to the title this year.
The bigger question in the Women's Open surrounded whom Khan would face in the final. Last year, Meredeth Quick (sister of Preston) was forced to withdraw from the event as a result of injuries she sustained as a passenger in her brother's car during that fateful crash. After recovering, Quick reestablished herself this year as a contender for the title by winning two five-game matches in the quarters and semis over Ivy Pochoda and Louisa Hall, respectively. In the final, Quick moved well and used good length to push Khan around the court, but Khan's quickness and decisive volley proved to be too much for Quick. The result was a three-game win in just under 30 minutes for Khan, 1, 4, 3.
Other multi-time winners included Dominic Hughes in the Men's 40+: Richard Elliott in the Men's 35+; Jonathan Foster in the Men's 45+; Jay Nelson in the Men's 60+; Dick Daly in the Men's 75+; Debbie Brown in the Women's 40+; and Adrienne Brandriss in the Women's 50+ and 4.5.
Next year it's back to the Boston area where Harvard's 16-court Murr Center will be ready and waiting. Eleven months and counting…
US Championships & Skill Levels Results
Preston Quick d Michael Puertas 7, (5), 9, 0
Latasha Khan d Meredeth Quick 1, 4, 3
Ilan Oren d Imran Khan (3), 10-8, 10-8, 3
Men's 25+ Round Robin
1st: Stefan Casteleyn
2nd: Muhammad Sadiq
3rd: Lucky Odeh
Mark Allen d Daniel Sharplin 5, (8-10), 2, 1
Richard Elliott d Robert Graham (1), 5, 1, 4
Dominic Hughes d Diniar Alikhan 4, 6, (3), 1
Jonathan Foster d Larry Armstrong 0, 6, 6
Tom Rumpler d Chris Burrows 10-9, 2, 5
Gulmast Khan d Leigh Skelton 10-8, 9-8, 10-8
John Nelson d Dan Hogan 0, 1, 0
Michael Gough d Robert MacDonald 10-8, (4), 4, 3
Ken Cucuel d E. Wade Close, Jr. 4, 10-8, 7
Dick Daly d Charles Butt (inj.)
Rahib Bhaloo d Alex Morcos 4, 4, (4), 7
Rafik Bhaloo d Lee Mighdoll 3, 0, 1
Rick Bohrer d Jim Stewart (6), 6, 1, 1
Dustin DeLong d Brian Swan 3-1
Jordan King d Vasanth Williams (2), 5, (3), 6, 2
Eric Hernady d Dennis Lee 10-8, (1), 4, 6
Jay Anderson d Adam Walker 6, 7, 1
Shona Kerr d Tasha Taylor 4, 4, 4
Women's 35+ RR
1st: Juliana Lilien
2nd: Amy Milanek
3rd: Jeanne Blasberg
Deborah Brown d Susan Rose 4, 4, (8), 8
Adrienne Brandriss d Susan Lehr 4, 2, 2
Emilie Kraft d Mindy Cooper 1, 5, 1
Nicole Nelson d Bettina Muench 2, 2, 0
Cindy Bradeen d Laura Kennedy 1, 7, 2
Carmen Hagios d Vanessa King 5, 4, 6
Adrienne Brandriss d Kristin Zwart 4, 4, 7
Shona Kerr d Deborah Brown 2, 1, 3