By Bob York
The glass slipper finally fit–thanks to Hallie Dewey’s shoehorn.
For the past 14 years, no matter how good Deerfield Academy girls squash teams were, there was always a Greenwich Academy team that was just a little bit better.
For the past 14 years, it was Greenwich Academy that was always standing atop the medals podium, posing as the golden girl of the New England tournament. And, more often than not, the Big Green could be found occupying a part of that same podium, only to take away a medal of a different color.
“It was frustrating,” said veteran Big Green coach Karinne Heise, after repeatedly falling victim to what has to be one of the longest championship streaks of any sport in New England Prep School annals.
But, as they say, “all good things must come to an end,” and for Deerfield girls squash, that’s a good thing. The Big Green finally put Greenwich’s title run in the past tense this winter, as it knocked off the Gators by a one-point margin to secure the crown. Hallie Dewey (’11) sealed the deal at centre court by taking the fifth of the best-of-five match in a tiebreaker, 18-16.
“Normally, the first player to 11 points wins the match … as long as they’re up by two (points),” explained Dewey, through an-ear-to-ear smile. But this was no normal match. This was Hallie Dewey vs. Nina Scott, two of the top 10 players in the country in their age bracket, according to U.S. Squash. “But after 11, you just keep on playing until someone wins by two points.”
And what the heck, after waiting 14 years for this opportunity, it’s doubtful any of the 200 or so Deerfield fans in attendance at the Academy’s Dewey Squash Center were going to quibble about waiting another half-hour or so.
As nail-nibbling as Dewey’s victory in the finals of the No. 1 bracket proved to be, setting up that finale was something only the squash gods could have concocted.
As this two-day showcase entered its gold-medal round, all seven Deerfield players were still standing, having earned a spot in their respective bracket final. Not to be outdone, however, the defending champion Gators weren’t going away easily–if at all–as they earned seven berths in the finals as well.
“So,” as Heise summed up the situation, “the first team to win four finals would win the championship.”
But even that would prove easier said than done, because as Dewey stepped foot onto centre court for one, final time on the prep school level, the two teams had split the previous six matches right down the middle.
Preceding Dewey’s match, Deerfield’s Hunter Sechrest (’13) had won her No 7 bracket, while Hallie’s cousin, Tori Dewey (’12), who has been elected next year’s team captain, and Emily Jones (’13) prevailed at No. 5 and No. 4 respectively. The Big Green players earning silver medals, meanwhile, were Nina Kempner (’11) at No. 6, Addie Fulton (’14) at No. 3, and Charlotte Dewey (’11), Hallie’s twin sister, at No.2. Then adding to the drama, Dewey’s bid to secure Deerfield’s first New England crown in girls squash since 1995 got off to a less than auspicious start. She dropped two of her first three matches: 8-11, 11-9, 13-15 to Scott, who, back in December, pinned the lone blemish on what would turn out to be a 28-1 season for Dewey. The Big Green ace nailed the final two matches, however, 11-0 and 18-16, and Deerfield could finally exhale.
“With all my family, friends, teammates and who knows how many Deerfield students watching and cheering for me, I knew I just couldn’t lose … I knew I couldn’t let them down,” said Dewey, who shared this year’s Bayne Bowl with Charlotte.
And she didn’t … and Heise knew she wouldn’t.
“I had all the confidence in the world that Hallie would come out on top,” said the Big Green mentor. “She’s incredibly poised and unflappable and thrives under the pressure she found herself in that day. And on top of that, she has an unbelievable will to win. When she was down, two matches to one in the finals, she simply refused to allow her opponent to win one more match.”
“It certainly got a little crazy out there … especially during that fifth match,” admitted Dewey, who will be playing squash for Princeton next year. “You just don’t want to make a mistake and hand the win to your opponent. The game moves so quickly, however, you really don’t have time to think … you only have time to react.”
That quick reaction time is the result of years and years of practice, and Dewey was able to enjoy an earlier start than most kids her age because she always had someone to practice with–her sister, Charlotte.
“We’ve been playing the same sports … squash … lacrosse … softball … soccer since we were five years old,” said Charlotte, who will be splitting with Hallie this fall and heading off to Middlebury College, where she will play both squash and lacrosse. “And when we weren’t playing, we were practicing together in the back yard.”
“We’re best friends … we’re each other’s biggest fan … and we’re each other’s toughest opponent,” said Hallie. “During practice here at Deerfield, the number-one player and the number-two player always practice against each other, so we’re constantly pushing each other to become better players.”
Charlotte, who, like Hallie, also plays soccer and lacrosse for the Big Green, was the first to venture to Deerfield. She came to school here as a freshman, while Hallie waited until her sophomore year to report for duty.
As a freshman, Charlotte, who finished with a 25-4 record this winter, quickly showed what the Deweys are capable of on a squash court as she grabbed the Big Green’s No. 1 bracket and finished her rookie season by grabbing a gold medal in Division II competition. Due to injuries, however, her sophomore and junior squash seasons were pretty much a blur.
“I broke my ankle on Oct. 6 of my sophomore year while playing soccer,” remembered Charlotte, “but I was able to make it back in time for the squash tournament and finished second in the second bracket.”
Charlotte wouldn’t be quite so lucky her junior year, however, as once again, “Can you believe it … exactly one year to the day … on Oct. 6 of my junior year, I tore my knee up while playing soccer, and this time I missed the entire squash season.”
And what about Oct. 6 of this past year? “Nothing happened … but I was awfully tempted to stay in bed all day,” she quipped.
There was more to this team’s season than its final day, however. This was a team that supplied a ride–from start to finish–“that was a thrill for each and every one of us to be a part of,” said Heise.
This was a team that rang up a 20-2 record, finished second at the National Tournament, which marked the first time ever that a Big Green team had earned its way into the finals of this event. Once there, however, it had to settle for silver, falling to Greenwich, which took credit for both Deerfield setbacks on the season.
This was a team that proved to be so dominating, 15 of its victims this season failed to put up a single point against it. A single point, meanwhile, was all that three other opponents had to show for a day in court with the Big Green.