The Middlebury Campus

Cembalest and Kagan Wrap Up Squash Season at Individual Nationals


The squash season wrapped up last Saturday, March 3, when Jack Kagan ’20 walked off the court at the national individual championships in the nation’s capital. Off of their third-place finish in the C draw at team nationals a week before last, Feb. 23 to 25, in Connecticut, the men’s No. 1 Will Cembalest ’20 and No. 3 Kagan made the trip to Washington, D.C., where they both competed in the same 16-player “East” pool in the Molloy draw.

After finishing 15th at the team championships last month, nagging injuries on the heels on a long season and tough schedule kept members of the women’s team from attending the individual championship tournament. This marks the first time since the 2013–14 season that the women’s team has not sent a representative to the individual championships, although in both instances the Panthers’ top players were more than qualified to make the trip if they had chosen to do so.

Cembalest wrapped up his season last Friday afternoon when he lost to Grayson Bubrosky, a junior who finished the season in the No. 4 spot for the Virginia Cavaliers. In the round of 16 Friday morning, Bubrosky lost in a closer-than-it-looked straight-sets match against the eventual pool runner up in Carson Spahr, the Dartmouth No. 2. Against Bubrosky, Cembalest dropped the opening set 11–5 before rebounding to make things closer in the second and third sets, which Bubrosky took 11–8 and 11–7.

Earlier in the day, Cembalest got a crack at Hobart’s No. 1 Josh Oakley. It was a chance for Cembalest to get another taste of the top competition in the country, as Oakley won 11 of his 20 matches in the top slot for the Statesmen’s top spot on the ladder this season. While he lost in three sets to Oakley as well, 11–6, 11–5, 11–6, Cembalest was glad to have the opportunity to experience the event.

“Last weekend was very fun,” Cembalest said. “Jack [Kagan] and I had good exposure to the top players in the country in a fun, competitive atmosphere. Jack, [coach] Mark [Lewis] and I all had a fun time hanging out, watching some of the best players in the country compete, and had some nice bonding time.”

Like Cembalest, Kagan also dropped his first match of the championships earlier last Friday. However, Kagan had the opportunity to continue playing on Saturday thanks to a mix of his endurance and in-match adjustments that allowed him to outlast Raghav Kumar, the Tufts No. 1, in a four set consolation match on Friday afternoon.

After narrowly winning his first set against Kumar 11–9, Kagan let some of the momentum slip away in the second set, which went the way of the Jumbos’ sophomore, 11–7. But the match-making set was the third set, a marathon game that went 26 points. Ultimately, things went Kagan’s way in the third set, 14–12.

Up in sets, 2–1, it would have been understandable for Kagan to take his foot off of the gas in the fourth set — especially given that he had lost a five-set match just a couple of hours earlier to Navy’s Michael Kacergis, who spent the entire season at the top of the Midshipmen’s ladder. But there would be no exhaling for Kagan, who clearly meant business when he got back onto the court with Kumar for the fourth set, which was not even close. Kagan won 11–0.

“The fourth game with Kumar was just a culmination of confidence from winning a really tight third game that was pretty critical,” Kagan said. “I felt myself get a serious second wind in the third and noticed that I could keep going and raising my level.

“After winning the third I just wanted to keep the pressure on in the fourth and keep taking the ball in short when I had the opportunity,” Kagan said of his approach. “I had to be the one to put the attacking shot in and make him react, rather than the other way around. In that game, everything was working.”

By winning Friday afternoon, Kagan got a chance to partake in Saturday morning’s consolation semifinals, where he met up with Aryaman Adik, a Trinity first-year who went on to win the consolation bracket of Cembalest’s and Kagan’s pool. Adik was a challenging matchup for Kagan, but the Middlebury sophomore managed to play him very closely, especially after the first game.

“The first game I really wasn’t awake or very present, and his pace of play is so fast that it really caught me off guard,” Kagan said of his 11–4 setback in his first set against Adik. Undeterred, Kagan made some adjustments and managed to push Adik, who just the week before was celebrating with his Trinity teammates the Banthams’ completion of an undefeated, 20–0, national championship season.

“After the first set,” Kagan explained, “I really had to get my shots deeper in the court to take away his opportunities for attack which he used often.”

Kagan pushed Adik in the second set to a 15–13 final, and then went one point further in the final set, which Adik took 16–14.

“I think me being able to stay in the points for so long definitely frustrated him,” Kagan said. “It was a fun weekend and a good way to finish off the season especially since I feel like I kept up a high level of play.”

With the season now in the books for the Middlebury squash teams, Cembalest and Kagan, along with their underclassmen teammates, now look forward to getting on the courts in match play when the season gets into full swing next December.

Cembalest looks fondly back on what he and his teammates were able to do the weekend before last at team nationals. And while team nationals are a highlight for any collegiate squash player, the results Cembalest got in Connecticut were especially sweet because there was an aspect of revenge.

“Team nationals were an awesome way to end the season,” said Cembalest. “Beating the Williams No. 1 and the Bates No. 1, who both beat me earlier in the season” was a highlight that Cembalest will look to build on in his offseason preparation for next year.

Last weekend’s individual nationals also allowed Cembalest to come away with an idea of what it will take to go from start to finish next season at the top of the Panthers’ ladder playing his best squash.

“My biggest takeaway,” Cembalest said of the weekend in Washington, “was that my body was hurting a lot and that after the long season it was hard to push myself to perform at the level I was playing at earlier in the season.”

Kagan was fitter for the action last weekend, but said that what both he and Cembalest took away from another opportunity to be exposed to the best collegiate squash has to offer will pay dividends going into next season.

“The weekend was definitely a different vibe for individuals since there were only two of us,” said Kagan. “It was great to get off campus and play in a completely different style of tournament and see what we could do.

“We have some things that we succeeded with and some things we need to remember to keep working on for next year. Especially since there were only two of us, it was a very self-motivated tournament. You had to find motivation to warm up, to prepare, to perform, from within, not from the team. That’s hard, but can be exciting at a high level.”

Along with the pair of sophomores who made the trip to the individual championships, the Panthers will return almost their entire starting nine for next season. The prospect of the team breaking into the B draw at nationals looks very realistic.

The Panthers’ No. 1 is already looking forward to the challenge.

“I am very proud of the work I’ve done this season,” said Cembalest, adding, “but honestly, I want to be much stronger for next season. I am going to put a lot of off-season work in this summer and that will have a strong impact on my game for next season.”

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