By BOB YORK –
Sam Khalifa might be the second best squash player in his family but as far as Deerfield Academy coach Mike Silipo is concerned, “he’s clearly the best player I’ve ever seen in my 36 years of coaching prep school squash.”
Watching Khalifa (14) and his older brother, Amr, play their version of “Wallball,” during their formative years, it was often difficult, according to the younger sibling, to discern just who was the teacher and who was the pupil. Both had their angles covered–and still do.
Amr, who is a sophomore at St. Lawrence University, won the NCAA Individuals Championship last year and wound up second in the tournament’s final standings this winter. Sam, meanwhile, has shown nothing but perfection on the prep school scene once he steps foot inside the glass door.
“My goal since the day I came to Deerfield was to finish my two seasons here undefeated,” said the younger Khalifa, after helping the Big Green earn a second-place finish at this winter’s New England Prep School Athletic Council Squash Championships, “and I’m elated to have accomplished that feat.”
Mission accomplished isn’t the only story line here, however. For Khalifa, who will be playing at Columbia University next year, it’s also a case of competition annihilation. In two years, Khalifa, who won this year’s Deerfield Squash Racquets Trophy, chalked up a 36-0 record during his matches and lost just a total of four games during those matches. So, if you care to translate his record into games, he was 108-4.
“It’s been a great year for me, winning my second New England title is definitely exciting,” said Khalifa, who also finished atop the first flight during the National Tournament to compliment his 12-0 regular-season showing. “The real reward and joy, however, was beating Avon Old Farms … the national champions … to finish our season undefeated at 12-0.”
That slim 4-3 victory over Avon, which won the National Tournament earlier in the season– to finish four slots above Deerfield–proved to be the Big Green’s final regular season appearance and represented just one of two matches all season long that had Silipo holding his breath. His charges outlasted both Avon and Taft by 4-3 margins, while the only other teams that managed to score on the Big Green were Belmont Hill and Hotchkiss, both of whom fell by 6-1 margins. Eight other opponents succumbed by 7-0 scores.
“This was a great group of kids,” said Silipo. “They worked hard and having the best player in the country to work with is always a plus.”
As dominating as Khalifa was, however, he couldn’t have won that silver medal all by himself, nor could that undefeated regular season showing been a reflection of his racquet alone. He needed a little help from his friends–and he got it. While Khalifa, who was earning a gold medal in first flight competition, Tad Huffard (15), who, like Khalifa, produced a 12-0 regular-season record, and Connor Henderson (15), who went 10-2 on the year, grabbed silver medals in the sixth and seventh brackets, respectively.
Elsewhere, Jack Greenwood (16), the winner of 10 of his 12 decisions this winter, wound up fourth in the second flight, as Tripp Kaelin (14), who went 4-0 at the Nationals and 10-2 on the season, placed fifth in the third flight. Cam Dewey (14), who was 8-4 during the regular season, finished sixth in the four bracket, with Jamie Kjorlien (15), the owner of a 10-2 regular season mark, placing sixth in the fifth flight.
“It was a great season,” said Silipo, “we went undefeated during the regular season and won the Brandes Cup. We also had some outstanding leaders from our senior co-captains, Tripp and Cam, and as a coach, I just couldn’t have asked for any more than that.”