Trinity fans tense up as their team heads toward defeat

Well it’s probably my fault that while I was away skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho, I was not at Yale cheering as usual at a tough squash contest between the Yale Bulldogs and my favorite team, the Trinity Bantams. So Trinity lost! As you may recall, I have been a groupie for the team for 4-5 years now, ever since my daughter played squash in high school, and her coach told me to watch the best college team in the country in Hartford, only an hour away. My wife and I have been going to many of the away games as well, supporting the team members, whom we met and liked, and yelling as loudly as anybody possibly could. I have written about some of these victories in the past. Amazingly the match once again came down to the ninth and last contest and the fifth and last game. Agonizing. In spite of the pain of defeat, I wish I had been there for the excitement and tension.

Trinity's Johan Detter hears advice prior to the final match

Yale fans rejoice...as they should for such an historic win

A friend told me about Trinity’s loss after our tennis match. He was very considerate to wait until after the tennis game to give me the bad news…and he was an opponent! Of course I was stunned. I was out of it too, given all the travel and attempts to survive the dangers of skiing after a year-long absence from the slopes.

I feel badly for the team and coach, whom I have known for years as well. Coach Paul Assiante has a great book about his success you might want to read, called Run to the Roar: Coaching to Overcome Fear. It’s a very exciting insight into the team, a close national match at Princeton, and how to motivate people to perform at their best.

Now here is the Hartford Courant’s story by Jeff Nowak about the inevitable day that Paul always said would come. Photos are by Bettina Hansen. If you want more detail about this historic match and its aftermath, here is a lengthy New York Times article.

Trinity's coach (rt) gives congratulatory hugs to Yale's coach Dave Talbott as Yale team members celebrate their victory

All things must end, or at least that’s the adage John Roberts and the Yale Bulldogs squash team announced to the world Wednesday night, January 18th, as they put to bed the longest winning streak in varsity intercollegiate sports history.

Trinity had won 252 consecutive matches, including 13 national championships, until Roberts’ dominant victory over Johan Detter in the fifth set of the final match of the day gave the bulldogs the 5-4 win at Brady Squash Center at Yale.

“Going into today I knew I was going to be on last, so I was hoping I was going to have a chance to win it for us,” said Roberts. “In the fifth you realized it was just a grind. Luckily, I got a good start and I was able to close it out.”

Trinity head coach Paul Assaiante said his team is still getting better, and having the streak over isn’t as much of a relief as he expected it to be. “Losing sucks, not a relief,” said Assaiante. “This isn’t fun, I hate losing, but this is only going to make us stronger.”

Yale lost the first two matches of the day, but sophomore Neil Martin was able to get the bulldogs on the board, followed on the same court by senior captain Ryan Dowd’s dominant 3-1 victory over Trinity’s Reinhold Hergeth. It was Hergeth’s first loss of the season.

“It’s been years of this, so many years of us coming so close and I honestly didn’t believe it until it was 11-4 there in the fifth,” said Dowd. “This is for us, this is for last year’s team, the team before that. This is for everyone.”

Not only has No. 1-ranked Trinity defeated No. 2-ranked Yale the past two seasons, but had done so in the national championship both years as well. Last February’s 5-4 defeat also came down to the final match.

“I can’t say enough about my guys—such heart,” said Yale head coach Dave Talbott. “Trinity’s put squash on the map in this country. To see this many kids from this many countries competing against each other is really amazing.”

After seven matches, Trinity led Yale 4-3.

One of the most inexperienced teams over Assaiante’s 18-year tenure is led by Vikram Malhotra, who is ranked No. 3 in the nation individually. Malhotra’s 3-0 victory over Yale’s No. 1 in Kenny Chan was the most dominant of any match and gave Trinity its short-lived 4-3 lead. Trinity also was able to stave off defeat after Sam Clayman made a two-set comeback, only to drop the fifth set 11-9.

“We’re young and I thought there were moments tonight where we didn’t handle the situation as well as we could’ve, I thought Yale played really well,” said Assaiante. “It’s been a long time coming for [Yale], I’m happy for them. We have to get back to Trinity and get back to work. …We have our sights on the nationals and let’s see if we can learn from this.”