Ahmed Abdel Khalek crowned national squash champion

Abdel Khalek capped an undefeated season by winning the first individual national championship in Bates history

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Both men and women’s squash finished up their seasons this past weekend. On the men’s side, junior Ahmed Abdel Khalek made history by winning the College Squash Association national championship to end his 25-0 season.

This past weekend, the top three singles players for Bates competed at the CSA individual national tournament. Abdel Khalek and sophomore Ahmed Hatata are both All-NESCAC First Team honorees. Abdel Khalek is also the NESCAC Men’s squash Player of the Year for the third season in a row.

Sophomore Darrius Campbell played two matches in the B division, defeating Lockie Munro from St. Lawrence before losing to Michelangelo Bertocchi of Rochester in a close consolation quarterfinals match. Hatata advanced to the quarterfinals in the A division before falling to Ryosei Kobayashi of Rochester in three hard-fought games (11-9, 11-8, 11-9).

Abdel Khalek was seeded first in the tournament, and he did not disappoint. He won his first five matches without dropping a set, beating some of the nation’s top players along the way. In the championship match, Abdel Khalek came back from two sets down to beat Colombia freshman Osama Khalifa 3-2 to win the national title. He is currently on a two season, 42-match winning streak. He is truly a master of squash.

From the team standpoint, junior captain Caran Arora described the season as “a roller coaster. We had some huge wins and some forgettable losses. And we have gotten into a habit of digging ourselves out of a hole at the very end. The end to this season was no different.” With two weeks left in the season, the team was ranked 18th in the nation. “This ranking was very foreign and unknown to us,” Arora said. “We knew we had to beat Middlebury at NESCACs to stand a chance of getting into the B flight and being a top 16 team” Arora continued. With their win against Middlebury, the Bobcats were able to compete at CSA team nationals in the B division.

The men’s team participated in CSA team nationals two weekends ago, ultimately placing 13th in the nation. The team opened the championship weekend with a 7-2 loss to Princeton in the Hoehn Cup (B Division) quarterfinals. The Tigers were ranked ninth at this point and the Bobcats were 16th. Bates’ number one player, junior Ahmed Abdel Khalek, remained undefeated as he bested Princeton’s Samuel Kang in four sets. At second singles, Ahmed Hatata suffered his first loss of the season. Bates’ second point came at third singles from sophomore Darrius Campbell, who posted a very impressive four set win. Bates came close at fourth and sixth singles but lost both matches in five sets. Princeton swept seeds four through nine.

With the loss, Bates moved into the consolation side of the bracket and faced Williams the next day in “one of the most intense matches the team has played all season,” according to Arora. In this NESCAC showdown, the Bobcats triumphed over the Ephs 5-4 in spectacular fashion. Earlier in the season, Williams beat Bates 5-4. Bates swept the first four singles positions with wins from Abdel Khalek, Hatata, and Campbell, and senior captain Andy Cannon.

The Bobcats next faced George Washington for 13th place in the final CSA team rankings. The squad triumphed 6-3 in a good team win, with wins coming at the top and the bottom of the lineup. Bates won first, second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and ninth singles.

Sophomore ninth singles player Carlos Ames commented on the team’s performance: “It was pure intensity last weekend at nationals. With all the ups and downs our team has had this year, to finish how we did was really special. After a tough loss to Princeton, we gave it everything we had against Williams and George Washington. From the first point to the last point, all of us grinded. We made a statement at CSA nationals. Next year we’re going to do even bigger things, I just know it. We’ve all come a long way, and it’s really sad to see the seniors leave, but we’re also excited and happy for them. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to play alongside with. This team is special.”

On the ladies side, the 16th ranked Bobcats opened the CSA team championship weekend in the B division against number nine Dartmouth. Dartmouth prevailed 6-3, with Bates’ points coming from Nessrine Ariffin (first), Myriam Kelly (second), and Lauren Williams (six), who all won in straight sets. The team finished their season against Middlebury, who won 7-2. Bates’ top two singles players (Ariffin and Kelly) again won their matches against their NESCAC rivals. However, the Panthers swept from three through nine.

Arrifin and Kelly went on to compete at the national individual tournament. Arrifin, the 24th ranked player, lost to Trinity’s Raneem Sharaf 3-1 before defeating the 25th ranked player Zandra Ho, 3-0. The next day, she fell in four sets to Michelle Gemmell of Harvard. Kelly, ranked 43rd, had a first-round bye before losing to Yale’s Georgia Blatchford in four sets. In the consolation bracket, Kelly took down Saskia Pownall-Gray of Middlebury before facing Gabriella Garr. Kelly jumped out to a 2-0 lead but lost the next three sets.

Kelly had this to say on the season: “This past season was filled with ups and downs. Some of us have pushed through injuries, and that just goes to show how much we love the game and our teammates. Given that squash is an individual sport, when I’m on the court, I am comforted by the knowledge that my team has my back, and  through my actions and fight on the court I let them know that I’ve got their backs. I believe the hard work has paid off for all of us as individual players, and as a team.”

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