I’m about twenty minutes late. Maybe half an hour, when I get off the elevator on the 7th floor of the Harvard Club. The first match of the men’s 5.5 semi-finals was supposed to start at seven p.m. But it was also supposed to be a win for Printing House. A pretty sure thing, on paper at least. So I wasn’t too worried. Until I get close to the courts and the guy who was supposed to win is standing in the hall outside the courts looking, well, not like a winner.
“You already play?” I ask.
He nods and my heart is already beginning to sink as I ask the inevitable question. But I already know the answer. When you win, it shows. It wasn’t showing.
A year ago, I wrote about winning. It was my first blog post. Ever. And as the captain of the triumphant team, as well as the victor in my match, I felt pretty amazing. Victory doesn’t come every day. And when you work hard for it, for a whole season, it’s a wonderful thing. We had played our final match at Harvard Club as well, and I remember walking to the subway station in Times Square with a big stupid smile on my face. One would think I’d been up to something a lot less legal.
Losing, however, is like falling on your face, and wondering if it’s even worth it to get up. I should know. I’ve done a lot of it this year. I took a risk to move up a league level this season and the few matches I played I was soundly trounced. Should I have stayed back in 4.0 and just played higher on the ladder? Probably. But I’ve also learned certain things from losing – and from captaining a higher level team – that I never would’ve by staying safely in a place I know so well. When you get your butt kicked, you start to really see what you need to do. And while I wasn’t able to get to that place in one season, I saw some of my teammates do it. One in particular. Losing fanned the flames for her; her losses at the beginning of the season turned into wins by the end. Just knowing that I helped someone love squash again felt like a win to me.
However, it was still really rough to see the teams of the club I loved and lost lose match after match in the league semi-finals. First, our women’s 5.0 team, after scratching our way to number three, lost 1-2 to Harvard Club. Then the men’s 4.5 captained by Dinesh Boaz tied in games, but lost overall by eleven points – eleven little points! – to Yale Club. And, finally, our last hope and, by some accounts, our best, the men’s 5.5 captained by Will Cheng was letting Harvard Club in the side door to the finals.
Of course, it’s never a happy thing to see a match go the wrong way for your home club team. But there’s such a thing as losing badly and losing admirably. And that was the case in the deciding match of the evening. #3 Steven Baker was down two games to one when I walked in, but he and his opponent, Asher Hochberg, were well-matched and they were truly battling it out, hitting rails as hard they could down the left wall, throwing in quick cross-courts, and going for drop after front left drop. After Steven clinched the fourth game, I still wasn’t sure which way it would go, and clearly no one else did either. Early in the fifth game, it looked like Steven’s to lose. “It’s over” said one optimistic observer. And it appeared as if it might be; Steven had turned it up a notch. But it’s never over til the last point is won. Especially in a five game match. Especially when it means getting into the finals or not. You don’t last this long to lose. But someone has to. And this time it was us.
The final game for Printing House between Gustav Detter (PH) and Richard Chin (HC) became an exhibition match, instead of a nail biter, and I’m afraid my heart was too crushed to let my brain focus. Too bad, as it was the first time I’d seen Richard Chin play and it was a revelation to see a player use years of wisdom and experience to outwit a young Swedish National Champion and someone who’d been on the cover of Squash Magazine. Although perhaps winning the New England Championships the day before had taken a slight physical toll on our guy….
It’s been a rough season for Printing House players. We lost our club, we lost seeing our friends everyday, and now our last Printing House teams lost the chance to go out in a blaze of glory. I (and perhaps you, too) even received an ominous “last printing house email” from one of the PH team captains. But I’m a ‘game is half won’ kind of person, and I can’t promise that I’ll never write about Printing House again. Yes, I’m going to go weep into the foam of a cold one at the Blind Tiger tonight. But losing Printing House is like losing in the 5th game. Next time it ain’t gonna happen.
Going forward, I’m going to think of another match as the last Printing House match. It was the last league match played at Printing House back in December and one of the teammates wrote about it, but only a few of us had the pleasure of reading it. So now we all can here. Whatever great lessons we learn from losing, winning is still so much more fun.