Team Corridor takes on the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships
A story about a writer, his dad and a bottle of Ibuprofen.
PORTLAND — Hey, let’s stick to the game plan.
That caught my attention.
For the first three games my dad’s advice had mostly consisted of attaboys and keep it ups. But here we were in the opening round of the 50th Pacific Coast Doubles Squash Championships and I was floundering away a 2-1 set lead in the fourth with a series of errors.
Keep it deep.
Keep it on their backhand.
Move your feet.
I knew to listen. He’s the former pro, a U.S. National champion who I’d love following around as a kid to various athletic clubs and feeling like I had the run of the place while he played/trained. As I got older, I’d enter a few of the tournaments, too, wracking up losses in the C draws while he seemingly defied age in the Opens. I enjoyed nothing more than watching him show up for a match in his 40s in high socks, short shorts and nasal strip only to methodically take down another 20-something masher with his range of lobs, drops and touch.
“He plays the game beautifully,” people would often tell me, not that I didn’t know.
I liked playing, but growing up in Alaska I resonated more to the social aspects of hockey. When you’re a teenager, sometimes your priorities lie with not having to explain what the sport you play is. But as I’ve moved from Alaska to Montana to Hawaii and now to Portland, squash has always been close by. The first thing I did when I moved here 10 years ago was join the Lloyd Athletic Club, where I met my first friends in this city through Monday night drop-ins and the Portland City Squash League. I’ve gotten a little bit better over the years, with weekly lunch matches with my friend Justin pushing me into the “decent B player” category.
Dad’s 62 now, still in great shape but finally getting to a point where he can’t quite get to every ball he thinks he can. Still, when he’s in town and we play, I’m the one who leaves the court with sore muscles, a sweat-soaked shirt and a loss.
But because of the pandemic, me starting my own company and him transitioning from piloting commercial jets to charters, it’s been quite a few years since we’ve played a tournament. So when I got an email toward the end of last year announcing the Pacific Coast Doubles Championships being held at the Multnomah Athletic Club in January, I shot it over to my old man.
“Let’s do it!” he texted back.
A few minutes later, he texted again:
“Have you played doubles?”
He had his answer in that fourth set.
Werner Hergeth didn’t really know what to expect. When tasked with organizing the 50th edition of a tournament that rotates between Portland, San Francisco and Vancouver B.C., he felt a mixture of pressure and the unknown.
The tournament hadn’t been held since the pandemic, and early planning meetings in November came with a state of uncertainty.
“We were worried that we might have to hustle people to sign up,” said Hergeth, a South African who’s been the MAC’s squash pro since 2019. “It was really important to us to have a strong ‘Welcome Back’ since it’s the 50th, but to also encourage us to keep that momentum that we lost the last three years.”
Maybe I was banking on sign ups being on the slow end, because when I entered us on Jan. 2, a full 11 days before the initial deadline, Hergeth let us know we had just cracked the draw.
“We just closed off entries so you just made it,” Hergeth wrote. “Our court schedule is jam packed.”
He wasn’t kidding.
When we got to the club Thursday night to watch the first matches of the tournament, a look at the draws showed the club’s two doubles courts booked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. the next two days — including my 8:30 a.m. trial-by-fire introduction to doubles the next morning. And a look at the games going on in the courts showed that I was in trouble. A doubles squash court is wider and longer than a traditional court and the ball — soft and rubbery in singles — is hard and seemingly skips off the wall and floor. The jockeying for position amongst the four players is controlled chaos in the best case scenario. Or in the case of Tyler Kristiansen of Kelowna, it meant a black eye going into the second round after wearing a direct shot off his protective glasses.
“It’s just so fun,” said Will Gruner when I ran into him that night.
Gruner, 34, played singles squash at Williams College and was paging through the previous tournament winners, noting it had been a long time since a pairing of Portland players won the Men’s Open. He was optimistic, though, a feeling aided by the presence of a partner in Julian Illingworth, who happened to be the most decorated American singles player of all-time with nine national titles.
They would win their first three matches to advance to the final before Illingworth had to withdraw due to a hamstring injury. With Portlander Adam Perkiomaki filling in, the pair dropped the championship match in four sets to Vancouver’s Justin Todd and Jason Del Vecario, a pair who buzz-sawed their way to the final without dropping a set.
“For us, it was, ‘Let’s just go out and have fun and let it rip,’” Gruner said. “I just like all the camaraderie. It’s just a treat — all these guys kinda retire from playing singles and they’re just so fired up about doubles. And [the crowd] is just so jazzed up to watch young guys play doubles at a really high level and you just feed off that energy.”
There was understandably less energy in the crowd for our two matches. My first swing saw me smash a ball into the tin after misjudging a service return off the wall. And it really didn’t get much better from there. We managed to eke out a five-set win in that first match of the Men’s B Draw, an impressive feat considering a man in his 60s carried his overweight adult son on his back. And in our 7 a.m. match in the second round on Saturday, we won our first set before dropping three straight to a pair of Canucks and one black eye.
Out of the tournament before 8 a.m. on Saturday isn’t new territory for me, but it certainly is for my father. On the bright side, if there’s ever an excuse for a morning beer, we had it. We spent the rest of the day watching matches, telling stories and, for me, limping between the two courts trying to track a quote or two down from Hergeth, who hadn’t stopped moving since the more than 120 players arrived.
He said it was tough for him to gauge how the tournament went.
“It’s difficult for me personally because there’s a lot of history and this is the first one I’ve ran,” he said. “So at times you feel like you’re stepping on the toes of that history …but it’s back and it feels new, it feels fresh. But it still feels old in a way.”
One thing they didn’t have at the first tournament held here in 1972 — a webcam. The MAC streamed the tournament on Twitch over the weekend, saving all the footage so a masochist like myself could go back through and watch exactly where it all went wrong. And while rewatching our loss wasn’t pretty, I was struck by about 20 seconds of footage that followed a mistake of mine that ended our third set.
Gassed, and down 2 sets to 1 to a team Dad probably wouldn’t struggle with if he had a better partner, I figured he’d want to take control — or at least tell me to stick to that long-ignored game plan.
Hit it deep.
Keep it on their forehand side.
Instead he smiled and kept it simple: “That was good. How you feeling? You’re doing great.”
And we kept on walking.
And though we’d lose the next game, and he’d drive home Sunday morning earlier than either of us wanted, I’m never getting rid of this footage.
Or the text he sent me when he got home.
“That was probably the funnest
“Just wait till we win the damn thing next year,” I replied.
— Tyson Alger
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You can see where I get my grammar from.
Great story Tyson.
You just solidified the fact that you don’t have to win all the matches in order to be a true sportsman, or be able to appreciate the ability to reap the many benefits of being able to play whatever sport(s) you fancy.
You played great and held your own and can’t wait to do it again.
Proud to be your partner!
PS. Sorry about the bad grammar. I meant to say “Funnerest”.
What a great story. Absolutely loved it!