Princeton, NJ — Princeton University men’s squash defeated Trinity College 5-4 in the Potter Cup finals of the 2012 Men’s National Team Championships today. Playing at home before a packed crowd in Jadwin Gymnasium, the Tigers won their first national championship since 1993.
The Tigers and Bantams were playing against the backdrop of a history of thrilling championship finals. Each of the last three times Princeton has hosted the Men’s National Team Championships the two teams have met in the finals. Each of those championships were decided by a score of 5-4 — and Trinity won the final match every time. The last time the two teams played for the national title was in 2009, and it was an epic, six-hour battle that came down to the fifth game of the final individual match.
This year marked Princeton’s return to the finals for the first time since 2009. Trinity faced Yale in the last two championship finals, and last season Yale took the match to 4-4 before Trinity pulled out another win in the final individual match.
Earlier this season Yale defeated Trinity 5-4, the Bantams’ first loss since 1998. The end of the Trinity’s record-setting 252-match winning streak changed the stakes for today’s contest. The Trinity players no longer had the burden of maintaining the streak; the Princeton players no longer had the burden of trying to end it.
But while the streak may have ended, the stakes remained high: a national title is a national title, and Trinity had won thirteen in a row. Princeton had come so close in the past, and the Tigers’ seniors wanted a chance to claim the title that had eluded them as freshmen.
“I’m so happy to be back,” Princeton senior co-captain Chris Callis told GoPrincetonTigers.com yesterday. “It was hard to appreciate those matches four years ago, but looking back, our regular season match and national final might have been the two best collegiate matches ever. We have a level of appreciation of getting here. For us seniors, it has come full circle now.”
This Trinity team was also looking to make their mark, to launch a new era of Bantam squash with a national title. When Trinity lost to Yale in January, Trinity senior co-captain Vikram Malhotra addressed his team. “Congratulations,” he told them. “You have been a part of this winning streak legacy. Enjoy it and we will start it again tomorrow.”
And start again Trinity did. Coming into today’s final, the Bantams had gone undefeated since the Yale match, posting impressive wins against the top teams in college squash, including a 7-2 win over Princeton on February 1. That match was played in Hartford and marked Princeton’s sole loss of the season. The Tigers had won the 2012 Ivy League title with a series of strong performances against top opponents, including a 5-4 win over Harvard in Cambridge.
Both Princeton and Trinity won their opening round matches at the 2012 Men’s National Team Championships by a score of 8-1, with the losses from both teams coming at #2. Princeton defeated Dartmouth, and Trinity beat Franklin & Marshall. The Trinity-F&M match had four individual matches go to four games; the Princeton-Dartmouth match only had two matches go into a fourth game.
In the semifinals, Princeton faced Cornell, who had upset Yale the day before. The overall match score was a decisive 7-2, but the Big Red made the Tigers work for the win. In the first two rounds of the match, Cornell pushed three of the six matches to five games. Buoyed by the home crowd, the Tigers pulled out key win after key win to secure their spot in the finals.
Trinity had an even stiffer test in the semifinals, where they faced Harvard. Trinity got on the board first with a three-game win from Moustafa Hamada at #9. It would be the only three-game match of the contest. Two wins in the first round and three wins in the second allowed Trinity to clinch early, but the Crimson kept fighting until the end. The final score was 6-3.
Today’s match was highly anticipated, not just because a national title was on the line, but because these two teams seem to bring out the competitive best in each other. They did not disappoint.
The event began with a raucous introduction. Trinity head coach Paul Assaiante and Princeton head coach Bob Callahan recognized the 2012 team and individual Men’s College Squash Association award winners. Princeton received the Sloane Award for team sportsmanship, Columbia University received the Barnaby Award as the most improved team, and Rochester’s Benjamin Fischer won the Skillman Award, which honors the top senior player and sportsman. Callahan also recognized 2012 Men’s College Squash Hall of Fame inductee Peter Yik, a two-time national individual champion for Princeton. The coaches acknowledged the seniors playing in their final team match: Malhotra and Antonio Diaz for Trinity, and Callis, Kelly Shannon, David Pena, and Clay Blackiston for Princeton.
The first round featured match-ups between Miled Zarazua (Trinity) and Tyler Osborne (Princeton) at #3, Vishrab Kotian (Trinity) and Blackiston (Princeton) at #6, and Moustafa Hamada (Trinity) and Pena (Princeton) at #9. Princeton took the early lead as Osborne won 3-0 and Blackiston won in five games at #6. Hamada kept Trinity in the match with a win at #9. Going into the second round Princeton led in the overall match score 2-1.
In the second round, two seniors and the co-captains of their respective teams met at #2: Diaz (Trinity) and Callis (Princeton). The match was a spectacular five-gamer. Callis came out strong and took the first game, but Diaz battled back to take the next two. Between games the crowd duelled: “Let’s go Bantams!” “Let’s go Tigers!” Callis came back to take the fourth game and force a fifth. Throughout the match, both Callis and Diaz made impossible gets and jaw-dropping shots, drawing audible gasps from the appreciative crowd. Diaz began to pull ahead in the fifth, as Callis began to stretch his quad, visibly in pain. Callis gamely played on, but the momentum was in Diaz’s favor. The Trinity senior took the match with an 11-6 win in the fifth.
The match-up at #8 featured Stephen Harrington (Princeton) and Matthew Mackin (Trinity). Mackin, a sophomore, has not dropped a match this season, and he came through again today, putting Trinity ahead 3-2 in the overall match score. In the #5 match, Johan Detter went up 2-0 for Trinity, but Samuel Kang regrouped to win the third game and force a fourth. Detter came back and won the match. Princeton would have to win all three matches in the next round to take the title.
Princeton wasted no time staging a comeback. Princeton’s Todd Harrity, the defending national individual champion, went up 2-0 at #1 over Malhotra. At #4, senior co-captain Kelly Shannon (Princeton) rallied in the first game to go up 1-0 over Reinhold Hergeth, and Dylan Ward (Princeton) won 3-1 over Juan Flores (Trinity) at #7. Ward’s win brought the Tigers another match closer, and Harrity and Shannon were both up 2-0 in their games.
In the number #1 match, Harrity was on fire, hitting nick after nick. At 9-5 Malhotra looked to stage a rebound, bringing the score to 9-6. But then Harrity shut the match down, winning 11-6 in the third.
The match came down to the #4 contest between Shannon and Hergeth, and Shannon was leading two games to love.
He won the match.
Princeton is the 2012 Men’s National Team Champion, defeating Trinity with a final match score of 5-4. In the ceremony following the match, both coaches congratulated all the players on their outstanding spirit, sportsmanship, and play.
Congratulations to all the players today, and congratulations to Princeton, 2012 national champions!