John Anz, a Trinity graduate and former Trinity men’s squash coach, reports on the Bantams recent showdown with Princeton University. He is the Director of the Annual Fund and Alumni Relations for the Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA.
Hartford, CT — What a difference a year makes…well…for some. The Trinity College Men’s Squash Team welcomed the Princeton squad to the Kellner Squash Center today. And, as in past years, questions and doubt abounded. Once again, Princeton had the final shot at a Bantam line-up which still had not lost a match in the past 11-plus years, notching 11 consecutive National Championships, and 220 dual match victories. Would today be the day?
Prior to the match, Trinity coach Paul Assaiante made it clear he had a few questions as well. Not only had he not seen the full Princeton line-up in action yet this year – no one really had. Princeton’s injury-riddled season so far has not only created one of the great unknowns for the final weeks of the season, but left indelible marks earlier in the schedule as Princeton’s only two defeats came in huge 4-5 match shortfalls, with many battles ending in 5-game heartbreakers. Knowing all of this full well, Assaiante called this Tiger team “the most dangerous we will face all year. The match-ups are brutal – but we are fit, healthy, and at home.” Facing a fit and healthy Trinity team in their own building? Oh boy….
Princeton squash coach Bob Callahan told me the same story Paul did. But, finally, with everyone in the line-up, Bob was hopeful that his team would play well, but also realistic that a number of his guys are not competition tested, match conditioned, or fully ready for what was about to unfold.
Played in three rounds, it would be a long day, with momentums gained and tides turned. The first three matches to start the day were at the 9, 6 and 3 positions. Princeton took two of the first games in these matches, and the long day had officially begun. Fast forward 30 minutes…Trinity’s Reinhold Hergeth came back from dropping his first game to best Clay Blackiston in four games (5-11, 11-4, 11-4, 11-6) at #9 to get the Bantams on the board. While Hergeth clearly cleaned up his game and gained control of the match, Blackiston didn’t help his own cause as he lost patience, pressed early in points, and repeatedly found the tin trying to push his oppo nent into the front corners.
But just as Hergeth walked off his court, both Antonio Salas (#6) and Supreet Singh (#3) were walking back onto theirs for Trinity, about to begin deciding 5th games. Both these matches were extremely well-played and hard fought. The 5th games were not, however, and two more 5-gamers slipped thru the Tiger players’ grasps by 11-6 margins. Fast forward another hour…
The second round of matches produced excellent squash, and a particularly impressive victory was claimed at #5 by Trinity’s Randy Lim over Kelly Shannon (11-6, 11-3, 1-11, 11-6). But, the roll was on, and with other outcomes secured by Andres Vargas (#8) and Parth Sharma (#2), the victory was in hand, the match technically over, and yet the day was far from done.
Round three, though academic to the outcome, did feature a match with interesting sub-plots. Trinity senior co-captain, #1, and two-time defending CSA champion Baset Chaudhry was about to play his last regular season dual match of his intercollegiate career. What’s more, he would face Princeton’s talented freshman, Todd Harrity. Senior vs. Freshman? The best against the new kid? A snoozer? Time to hit the library? Hardly – time to get a good seat, and don’t get up for anything!
Game one – 11-4 to Harrity. You began to hear the editorial conversations going on among the faithful, “Good for him. Nice little player.” Game two – 11-9 for Chaudhry. “Okay, that’s more like it. Honey, tell the kids we’re leaving soon.” Game three – 11-4…Harrity! “Take your coat off – we’re staying!” At that point, it was as quiet as I’ve heard it in that gallery for quite some time. When Chaudhry won the 4th game 11-7, you couldn’t hear yourself think!
For the first three hours of the match the crowd was well-spread across the two facilities, and while crowded, there was breathing room. No longer. As Chaudhry and Harrity entered the court for the fifth and final game, only a third of those watching the match actually had a view of the players and any more than 25% of the court. It was packed! And that packed crowd greeted Harrity to a chorus of “Here we go Baset, here we go” – a unison performance that would be repeated on three more occasions during the game. Think Knicks / Lakers at the Garden in championships series in the ’70s. It was all that and more!
The match all along had been a study in contrasts…precise technique versus smooth execution, speed versus quickness, youthful caution-to-the-wind attack versus experience, and the effort necessary to finish off one of the great collegiate careers. The game began, like most did, with tempered and patient play on the left wall, each player waiting for the right moment to create space and spread his opponent. Often Harrity would seize the opportunity first, increasing the tempo, moving Chaudhry to one of the other three corners of the court. But Chaudhry counters as well as anyone, and Harrity’s moment of attack became Chaudhry’s cue to push the envelope further as well. Great shot-making was only surpassed by jaw-dropping retrievals. As with most fifth games, there were a few more “let” calls, and many points we replayed. But it did notaffect the brilliant play, the sportsmanship, and most importantly, the outcome of the match.
After the last chorus had been sung and the smoke had cleared, Chaudhry had prevailed in the fifth 11-9, and Trinity had secured a surprising and somewhat humbling 9-0 victory over Princeton. I am sure that Coach Callahan had hoped for more out of his team this day, and at least a tally or two or the scoreboard. But he also knows what Coach Assaiante knows – three five-gamers, and a rusty line-up – “It could have been different today. People will think this was a huge blow-out. We know what happened out there. Today we were ready. Next weekend we’ll see them again, and it could be a different story.” And Paul’s right. That’s why you play the match, no matter how brutal you think the line-ups look on paper. Problem is…Trinity always seems to be ready. Has anyone actually tried throwing the kitchen sink at these guys yet?