By Dent Wilkens
The 2011 U.S. Doubles Squash Championships returned to Chicago March 25-27, after last being held there in 2004. Title sponsored by BMO Capital Markets, the event was hosted by the Racquet Club of Chicago, the University Club of Chicago, and the Onwentsia Club.
Tournament Chair Peter Dunne worked tirelessly over the past year to pull the myriad pieces of a national event together, ably assisted by his tournament committee and the professionals of each of the three host clubs. The festivities included a Friday cocktail party benefitting the METROsquash urban enrichment program at the beautiful new University Club courts overlooking Millenium Park and Lake Michigan. The Racquet Club hosted an elegant black tie dinner on Saturday as well as a stunning brunch spread on Sunday leading into the final matches of the tournament.
Competition in all divisions featured an interesting mix of long-time teammates as well as newly formed partnerships. In the Women’s Open, 2010 U.S. Doubles Champion Narelle Krizek made it a family affair by teaming up with her sister, Tarsh McElhinney. Krizek and McElhinney proved too much for the Philadelphia team of Dawn Gray and Amy Milanek in a hard-fought three game semifinal.
In the other semifinal, the New York team and No. 2 seeds Dana Betts and Emily Lungstrum came up against the Canadian team of Stephanie Hewitt and Seanna Keating, the 2011 Canadian Doubles Championships Winner and Finalist, respectively. Hewitt and Keating raced to a two game lead, but dropped the third due to consistent play and shot making from Lungstrum and Betts. The Canadians reasserted themselves in the fourth game to secure a spot in the finals against Krizek and McElhinney.
The Women’s Open Final showcased an incredibly tight match, with three of the four games pushed to tiebreakers. McElhinney, who currently lives in Las Vegas and has no regular access to a doubles court, became more of a threat every round in the tournament as she began to find her rhythm. The 20-minute first game came down to a double game ball at 16-all, with the sisters pulling out the final point. The second game also came down to overtime, however this time the athletic Canadian pair were able to gain an edge to tie the match with a 16-14 win. Krizek, currently the head coach at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, further asserted herself in the third game and showed why she has been one of the most dominating forces in the women’s doubles game over the past several years. Her ability to be aggressive from all areas of the court, coupled with McElhinney’s consistent play and excellent speed, led the team to a 15-12 win in the third game. The Canadian duo would not go quietly in the fourth game; however, McElhinney and Krizek were able to squeak out a dramatic 16-15 win to secure their first National Championship as teammates.
In the Men’s Open, Chicago put out a strong local showing, as five players on three teams from the Chicago area reached the quarterfinals. University Club Professional Mark Heather and partner Sean Ballard weren’t able to unseat defending champions and No. 1 seeds Steve Scharff and Dylan Patterson, while Onwentsia Club professionals Aidan Harrison and Sam Wileman fell to the powerful No. 2 seeds, Trevor McGuiness and Addison West. METROsquash Executive Director David Kay and Canadian partner Eric Baldwin were not able to overcome the speed of CitySquash Executive Director Tim Wyant and shot making of partner Josh Schwartz. In the last quarterfinal, youth took on experience as Doubles legend Gary Waite and 9-time U.S. Doubles Champion Morris Clothier were ousted by U.S. SQUASH staff member Dent Wilkens and Columbia Men’s Coach Jacques Swanepoel in a hard- fought 5 game battle.
In the first semifinal, Scharff and Patterson controlled play in the first two games against Wilkens and Swanepoel, successfully capitalizing on opportunities in the front court. Wilkens and Swanepoel took the third game, but the No. 1 seeds proved too much in the end, finishing the fourth game 15-7. In the bottom half of the draw, 2-time Champion Trevor McGuinness and 2010 Finalist Addison West looked to keep the pace high, but Schwartz and Wyant stayed consistent, receiving a few errors while hitting winners of their own to tie the match at 1-1. In the end, however, McGuinness and West proved to have too much firepower, finishing the match in four games.
The Men’s Open Final delighted the crowd with swings in momentum and consistently exciting squash. It was clear from the beginning that McGuinness and West planned to use their pace and look for openings to put the ball away in the front court, while Scharff and Patterson aimed to use the angles and height of the court to keep the hard hitters off balance and create opportunities to attack. This strategy worked well in the first game; McGuinness and West were both forced into several errors, while Scharff used his deft touch in the front court and Patterson successfully executed several reverse corners at important points, leading to a 17-15 win. The momentum changed dramatically in the second game, as West played extremely steady, aggressive squash and McGuinness found his range, burying nearly every open ball available to him to win the game 15-5. The match hung in the balance in the third game, with both teams making surges until reaching dual game-ball when McGuinness and West pulled out a high-paced point to win the game 16-15 and a 2-1 lead. West and McGuinness rode this momentum to a 15-9 win in the fourth game, marking West’s first title and McGuinness’ third title in 4 years.
Some of the most exciting play took place in the age divisions, and the finals in many divisions were a highlight of the weekend. The Women’s 40+ showcased a rematch of the 2010 Final, but with a different result. Kat Grant of Philadelphia and Lissen Tutrone of Baltimore bested the sister-sister team of Alicia McConnell and Patrice Cromwell in a 4-game final. Several Legendary players faced off in the Women’s 50+ Final, with Sara Luther and Joyce Davenport besting Molly Pierce and Jennifer Edson in a 4-game match in which every game went to a tiebreaker.
In the Men’s 40+ Final, Michael Puertas and Jeff Mulligan topped defending champions Eric Vlcek and Thomas Harrity in four games. Jamie Bentley and Bart Sambrook overcame a 2-0 deficit to win the Men’s 45+ over Kevin Jernigan and Andrew Slater. Eben Hardie and Jamie Heldring defended their 50+ title in three games over Canadian teammates Fred Reid and Alan Hunt. Sandy Tierney and Sean McDonough defended their Men’s 55+ title, dropping only one game all tournament and topping Steve Hisey and Stanley Dorney in the final match. Canadians Steve McIntyre and Brian Murray outlasted Michael Pierce and Gordon Anderson in a 5-game semifinal in the Men’s 60+, but fell to their compatriots, Tim Griffin and John Boynton, in an exciting 5-game final. David Potter and Chris Wheeler won the Men’s 65+ final in three games over Peter Hall and Jim Bruce. Don Mills and Theodore Marmor defended their 70+ title over Michael Wilson and David Bogert, while in the 75+ Peter Holland and Norman Seagram defeated William Jones and Dave Matthews in a hard-fought four game match.
The host venues, tournament committee, and staff of each club did an exceptional job of pulling off a memorable event. What remains in everyone’s mind after the event is not only the high level of squash, but also the level of hospitality extended by the entire Chicago community to the participants in the 2011 BMO Capital Markets U.S. Doubles Championships.