Feb. 16, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Julian Illingworth arrived at Yale in the fall of 2002 as one of the most heralded squash recruits in school history. Over the last four years he certainly has lived up to the expectations, posting a 33-5 career record in dual matches. Nevertheless, the countless hours he has spent in the Brady Squash Center have helped him fine-tune his game.
"My game has become much more consistent, and I have become a lot more powerful and strong around the court," Illingworth says. "I was a lot skinnier when I was a freshman and so I was really fast and quick, but it was more of a scramble around the court. Now I am more balanced and in control."
Those traits will be on display in the next two weeks as his brilliant Yale career concludes with several huge events, starting with CSA Team Championships at Princeton this weekend. The Bulldogs are ranked third in the nation heading into the tournament that determines the national champion.
That will be followed by a dual match with Harvard next Tuesday. Yale, which has already clinched a share of its first Ivy League championship since 1990, can win the title outright with a victory over the Crimson.
Illingworth then heads to the CSA individual championships on Mar. 3-5 in Amherst, Mass. Winning the CSA individuals would be a dream ending for Illingworth, who lost in the semifinals as a sophomore in 2004 and then fell to Princeton's Yasser El-Halaby in the championship match last year.
"The thing that makes Julian so special is his pure athleticism and love for the game," said Dave Talbott, who is in his 23rd season as the head coach at Yale. "He is still learning technical skills and developing his game, but his coverage and movement are extraordinary. I think he is the best American player since my brother Mark."
Mark Talbott, who was the head coach of Yale's women's team for six years and is now the Director of Squash at Stanford, was the world's top-ranked professional squash player for 12 seasons and was an eight-time World Professional Squash Association Player of the Year.
Illingworth began playing squash when he was eight-years-old, first with his father and then with the help of a coach at a club in his hometown of Portland, Ore.
"The mental and physical strain that squash puts on your body is what makes it a great game," Illingworth says. "There is no one dominating style that will always work, so it forces you to constantly be thinking and adapting your game to who you are playing against and what they are doing."
In addition to his success at Yale, Illingworth has competed in a number of other tournaments. Last March, he became only the second amateur to win the U.S. National Singles Championship in Boston. He also has traveled the world to play. Two of his most memorable tournaments were the 2002 World Junior Championships in India and the 2005 Men's World Championships in Pakistan.
"Playing for your country is very special and a source of pride for me," he says. "In both of those tournaments, the U.S. team finished in its best position ever."
The trip to Pakistan earlier this year was unforgettable off the court as well. Illingworth, along with other members of the U.S. team, visited the children's ward of the main hospital in Pakistan.
"The hospital had received 1,500 injured children after the earthquake in the area and there were still 50 there," Illingworth said. "It was a pretty touching experience. Pakistan was awesome. Everything was much nicer than I expected. The hotel we stayed at was very westernized, so I wasn't roughing it all. I did not feel in danger at any point on the trip. The bus from the hotel to the squash center was led and followed by police cars at all times."
There are probably more exciting trips in Illingworth's future. He will turn professional following the CSA individual championships, and, ironically, his first tournament as a pro is the USSRA Men's National Championship at the Brady Squash Center from Mar. 16-19.
After graduation in May, Illingworth plans to move to England for a year or so and train full time. He is currently ranked 104th in the world but believes he can improve on that.
"Training with top players every day will help take my game to another level," he says. "I feel like I am on the edge of making a large jump in level. When I play guys ranked around 30 or 40 in the world, I lose, but I feel they are not that much better than me. Two years ago, I would come off the court and think those same guys were untouchable to me."
Report filed by Tim Bennett, Yale Sports Publicity