Sunday was truly a great day to be a Bobcat. Ahmed Abdel Khalek, a senior squash player from Cairo, Egypt, has made the Bates community proud by taking home his second consecutive College Squash Association national championship trophy. The senior extended his winning streak to 66 by defeating Rochester’s Ryosei Kobayashi in the final match. The four-time NESCAC player of the year has only lost twice in his storied career.
Coming out of high school, Abdel Khalek was ranked as the number six junior squash player in the world. Several Ivy League schools and squash powerhouses recruited him, but after a visit his senior year, he decided to apply Early Decision One to Bates. The rest is history.
When asked what makes Abdel Khalek such a great player, Coach Patrick Cosquer responded by saying, “Ahmed is a superior squash talent. He has tremendous skill and ability, and his court coverage and knowledge and sense of the game is unmatched. He’s a fierce competitor who is intensely focused on playing his best each and every time he steps on the court.”
Abdel Khalek competed in the College Squash Association Individual Championships, which features the top 16 players in the country. The tournament was held at the beautiful Chelsea Piers facility in Stamford, Connecticut. As the defending champion, Abdel Khalek was the top seed in the pool division. However, his path to the national championship was by no means easy, especially after battling an illness the week prior. Coach Cosquer said that Abdel Khalek’s early matches helped him prepare for victory in the final match.
Abdel Khalek’s first match of the tournament was on Friday against Rochester’s Neil Cordell. The win was a clean sweep for the All-American (11-6, 13-11, 11-5). The next victory was against St. Lawrence’s Moustafa Bayoumy. Abdel Khalek finished him off in a hard-fought five-game match. Abdel Khalek was given little rest, as he faced Trinity’s Rick Penders later that day. Trinity historically dominates squash and is known as the most successful team in intercollegiate sports. Still, Abdel Khalek proved to be unfazed by Trinity’s prestige. After dropping the first game of the match, he won three straight to close out it out in four games.
The stage was now set for an exhilarating final match between Abdel Khalek and Rochester’s Ryosei Kobayashi. Kobayashi is a junior and two-time First Team All-American. This pairing was a rematch of last year’s semifinals, which Abdel Khalek won on his way to his first national championship. The first game of Sunday’s match began with a series of long points between the two competitors. The crowd watched in awe as two of the best players in the country went at it. Abdel Khalek cruised to an 11-5 win in the first game. Undeterred, Kobayashi came out in the second game firing on all cylinders. He started out the game up 4-0 and eventually closed it out 11-6. With the match tied at 1-1, game three will go down in the college squash history books.
Kobayashi once again started out strong, but Abdel Khalek was able to climb back after key mistakes from the Trinity superstar. After Kobayashi tied the game at 11-11 with an incredible volley crosscourt, Abdel Khalek went down with a knee injury. The Bobcat community held their collective breath as their star spewed blood all over the court. But Coach Cosquer was not concerned. “In 91 matches as a Bobcat, Ahmed has never been forced to retire, so I was not worried,” he said. After a 15-minute break, the match continued.
Then, with the game tied at 13-13, Kobayashi injured his hand in a collision. Another 15-minute injury timeout ensued. After play resumed, Abdel Khalek won two straight points to win the game 15-13. The fourth and final game of the match came down to the wire. Abdel Khalek won the last two points to finish the game 13-11 and collect his second straight national championship trophy.
Coach Cosquer had high praise for his star player, and feels positive about the future of the squash program. “Coaching Ahmed has taught me a lot about myself as a coach, and this experience has solidified my goals and motivations for our squash program at Bates moving forward,” he said. “Ahmed has given me and Bates Squash much more than I have given him, and we have been fortunate to share four years together. We will be inextricably linked through our experiences here at Bates, and I look forward to helping him succeed in life as an adult after Bates.”