Stars and Stripes Shine: Detroit Squash Takes Cross-Border Challenge

Detroit Athletic Club members dominate the Battle of the Border

Detroit Athletic Club members dominate the Battle of the Border (Image: courtesy of Mick Joint)

Report courtesy of Mick Joint,  Detroit Athletic Club squash pro blogging at The Squash Joint

The Cross Border was first played in September of 2005 in order to grow interest and enthusiasm in the Detroit Athletic Club squash program. It was important that we could build long term relationships and friendly rivalries with a select clubs nearby, however in our search for a partner club, we found one just across the border.

The Windsor Squash and Fitness Club is less than a five mile drive from Detroit Athletic, and they were more than happy to get involved. Thus, the Cross Border Challenge was born—and has been a staple of the Detroit squash season for ten years.

We play twice a year, each club playing host, with socialization a key factor in the squash event. The beauty of the Battle of the Border is that anyone can play: beginner, advanced, singles or doubles, if a member wishes to participate, we do our utmost to find an opponent. We try to keep the event as casual as possible, while promoting the patriotism of each country, and that help to build the camaraderie between all players.

The Cross Border Trophy is a hacked up squash racquet nailed to a piece of wood. The cheesiness of it all is perfect.

Detroit Athletic Club won the initial contest, but then lost the next seven. Currently, excluding this most recent venture, Windsor holds the winning edge with ten wins to the Detroit Athletic Club’s six.

American contingent from Detroit Athletic shows off their stars and stripes (Image: courtesy of Mick Joint)

American contingent from Detroit Athletic shows off their stars and stripes (Image: courtesy of Mick Joint)

In the absence of our shameless fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld—a.k.a. Sante Fratarcangeli—John Mann stepped up to the plate and supplied the patriotic robes to many of our players. At least the shirt this time had some sleeves, but the golden nugget of apparel had to be the knee-high socks adorned with the American flag. The cape was also a magic extra, but pretty much impossible to play in. Made for a great photo-op though!

Inspired by the prolific amount of red, white and blue, the seventeenth Cross Border Challenge produced a wealth of closely contested matches and our Detroit Athletic members were well up to the task. Tom Fabbri got the ball rolling for us, his sock flags waving in the wind as he controlled the middle of the court with solid length. He was consistent enough to hold off the charge from Trevor Charles for a 3-1 win, which included a 3-10 comeback in the second game.

Jon Dengel had a chance at revenge. A year ago he had lost to Grace Kim in four games, and he was determined not to lose twice. But, as Jon pointed out after the match, it’s rather difficult to tire out a player who is clearly in better physical condition than himself. Testosterone, however, can be a powerful motivator and Jon almost pulled it off. Going down 10-12 in the fifth was a gallant effort.

After Julie Vande Vusse made a fashionably late entrance, she took care of business against Michaela Birley 3-1, which was then off set by Ian Edwards’ 1-3 loss to James Konrad. At this stage, the two countries had two wins apiece, but then Detroit Athletic started to pull away.

The igniter was the first doubles result—Bruce Shaw and Ken Katz tackled Peter Wares and Derek Roth for the best doubles match of the day. Back and forth they went, trading games with scores lines of 15-14 and 15-13 all the way through to a nail-biter of a fifth game. Our home boys kept it together and absorbed the pressure well, breathing a huge sigh of relief taking the last game 15-13.

Josh Gershonowicz then produced another down-to-the-wire victory. He had to hustle continuously against the experience of Dave Hornby, a doubles specialist who loves to use weird angles on the singles court. It can be troublesome to find any rhythm against such players, so Josh did well to claim the 11-9 in the fifth and put another notch in the Detroit Athletic’s win column.

Tom Fabbri in his stars and stripes get-up prepares to return the shot (Image: courtesy of Mick Joint)

Tom Fabbri in his stars and stripes get-up prepares to return the shot (Image: courtesy of Mick Joint)

Most were interested in our new member Vikram Chopra. It was a good chance to see him under pressure as he tackled the flamboyant Dan Van Moorsel. Dan is a big guy, but covers the court well and can also put the ball away. Vikram has a wristy swing that produces a lot of power and can be relatively deceptive, making his opponents stretch out into the corners. A little consistency cost Vikram game one, as too much over hitting set Dan up a bit too easily. But Vikram improved that tightness in the next three games to take the 3-1 win.

Special mention must be made to Alan Howard who we can excuse for being late to his match. He was on a good-will mission. To make sure that all the Windsor players were indeed able to leave their club safely and get to the Detroit Athletic Club, Alan decided to drive to the Windsor Club first, confirm there weren’t any stragglers, and then return. A true gentleman. I doubt Andrew Della Bona thinks so though, Alan’s good-will only went so far as he took all 3 games.

Andy Adamo will be kicking himself slightly as the one that got away. He was looking rather good heading into the third against Doug Fields as he held a 2-0 lead. Doug is a feisty adversary, and Andy appeared to have taken the “foot off the gas” ever so slightly. Doug took the next two games. The fifth was a battle—Andy stepped it up in order to stop Doug’s momentum. It could have gone either way, but it was Doug who got to the finish line first with a 12-10 in the fifth.

Another fifth set tie break result fell to the Windsorites. Derek Roth made amends for the doubles loss earlier by somehow staying on his feet long enough to beat John Mann 13-11 in the last game. That result almost turned it around for the Canadians—with three results to go, we still needed one more win to secure the trophy.

The closeness of the matches and the camaraderie is why we run these things—I would not have been upset in the slightest if we didn’t win the day. That being said, we still wanted the victory! And finally securing that win was the third doubles match of the day –Patrick Petz and Dane Fossee survived to take their match in five.

The final two matches had Derek Aguirre battling the hard hitting Paul Gebrael. Paul loves his power – and he has plenty of it – and it can be awkward to counter such a tactic. I instructed Derek to slow the pace and not try to smack the ball with him. The strategy worked for one game, but consistently controlling the ball when it’s coming at you with an uncomfortably quick pace is something we all know is easier said than done. Paul took the match 3-1.

The final match of the day was also a five-setter. Dave Porter got off to an excellent start and won the first two over Dane Fossee, who had jumped immediately from the doubles court to the singles. Maybe Dane couldn’t find his ‘singles’ touch initially, but as the match wore on, Dane was looking stronger as Dave was beginning to fade. Dane made the comeback complete, taking the last game and ended the day on a high note for the Detroit Athletic contingent.

Overall, we won the Battle twelve matches to nine. It was one of the best Cross Border events we have ever had. Thank you to all who participated, the twenty-one match total is the second best we’ve ever achieved. (The record is 28 matches in April 2014.) The next event is scheduled for September in Windsor.

Meanwhile the Cross Border Trophy sits in my office, where it belongs!

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