Trinity Squash

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Trinity College holds the longest winning streak in the history of varsity intercollegiate athletics.

Trinity College is a selective liberal arts college located in Hartford, Connecticut.  Founded in 1823, it is the second oldest college in the state, behind Yale.  With an enrollment of 2,300 students, Trinity offers 38 majors and has a student-faculty ratio of 10:1.  Situated on a lovely, gothic slice of 100 acres, the school motto is “For Church and Country.”

Trinity’s 27 men’s and women’s varsity athletic teams compete in the New England Small College Athletic Conference in the NCAA’s Division III.  The school’s athletics program is superb.  The Bantam men are three-time national champions in cross-country, won the 2008 national baseball title, and were D-III hockey champions in 2015.  The Lady Bantams are a perennial power in crew, winning the 2008 national championship, and claimed the D-III lacrosse title in 2012.

The University of Miami won 137 straight men’s tennis matches from 1957 to 1964.  Penn State’s women’s volleyball team won 109 matches in a row before losing in 2010.  From 1940 to 1961, Yale took 201 consecutive dual swim meets.  Mount Union College [Daily Dose, 12/15/16] won 55 straight football games in the late 1990s, and John Wooden [Daily Dose, 10/14/15] led the UCLA Bruins to an 88-game unbeaten streak in the first half of the 1970s.  Impressive as they are, these streaks pale in comparison to what Trinity College accomplished in men’s squash.  After losing to Harvard in the collegiate finals in February 1998, the Bantams reeled off 252 straight victories over the next 14 years.  They won a record 13 consecutive NCAA championships and emerged as one of the most dominant programs in collegiate sports history.

Intercollegiate squash is governed by the Men’s College Squash Association, which was founded in 1931 as the Intercollegiate Squash Racquets Association.  The first singles tournament, won by Harvard’s Beekman Pool, was held in 1932.  The first men’s team tournament—won by Princeton– took place a decade later.  Men’s college squash is largely a Northeast sport dominated by Ivy League schools.  From 1942 to 1998, Ivy teams won every national championship but three.  During that time, the only non-Ivy school to win was the U.S. Naval Academy, which claimed the crown in 1957, 1959, and 1967 under legendary coach and college squash hall-of-famer Art Potter.  In 1999, Trinity won the first team title in school history and did not relinquish the crown for 13 years.

Squash is similar to racquetball and played on a rectangular, four-walled court.  Games are played to nine points with only the server capable of scoring a point.  Winning three games wins the match.  Every February, the top eight teams in the nation compete in the “A” division of the MSCA team championships for the national title and the Potter Cup.  Teams are comprised of nine players, each of whom plays an individual match against their opponent.  Matches are worth one point.  The team collecting the most points wins.

Paul Assaiante is currently in his 23rd year as head coach at Trinity.  A 1974 graduate of Springfield College with a master’s degree from Long Island University, Assaiante has coached at Army, Williams College and has led United States teams in the Pan Am Games as well as the World Championships.  In 1996, he was asked by the Trinity school president what it would take to make the Bantams’ program the finest in the nation.  “The best squash in the world is not being played in the United States,” Assaiante, who is 399-15 at Trinity, told his boss.  The school president replied, “Great, go out and find the best and brightest.”  A Canadian player joined the team in 1996.  The following year, the Bantams featured one player from South Africa and another from England.  Soon the locker room became a melting pot of cultures and creeds, and the top nine players are all now international students.  Assaiante has never made a recruiting trip and Trinity’s squash program has a budget under $ 10,000.  Unlike the Ivy League schools, Trinity can offer financial aid to its players.

Trinity had some spectacular near-losses—all against Princeton—during “The Streak.”  At a match in Hartford in 2006, the schools were tied at four-all heading into the final contest.  Trinity freshman Gustav Detter faced Yasser El Halaby, Princeton’s reigning three-time national singles champion and perhaps the most decorated college squash player ever.  Down two games to none and facing a match point in the third game, Detter rallied and won the third game.  Then the fourth.  And—incredibly–the fifth, giving Trinity the win.  “The craziest thing I have ever been a part of,” said Assaiante afterward.  In the 2009 Potter Cup final, Baset Chaudhry, a 6’5” junior from Pakistan and Trinity’s top player, was tied at two games-all and in the fifth and final game when he fell behind Princeton’s Mauricio Sanchez 0-5.  Chaundhry won the last nine points of the match to give Trinity the championship.

On January 18, 2012, Trinity traveled to New Haven to face Yale.  The Bantams were the top-ranked team in the country.  Yale was ranked number two.  Tied at four games apiece, the match came down to the deciding contest in the No. 4 spot, where senior John Roberts, an Irishman, beat a Swede, Johan Detter [Gustav’s younger brother], to give Yale a 5-4 victory.  After four-and-a-half hours, a winning streak that had spanned almost 14 years was over.  “I always said that I would be relieved when the streak was over,” said Assaiante.  “I guess I was lying because I don’t like this feeling at all.”

Princeton went on to win the 2012 Potter Cup, and Trinity has since claimed it twice—in 2013 and 2015.  From 2003 to 2012, Paul Assaiante coached nine straight senior classes that graduated having never lost a match while competing for Trinity College.

“The Streak” is the longest in college sports, but it is not the sport’s longest winning streak.  That distinction also goes to squash.  Between 1981 and 1986, Pakistan’s Jahangir Kahn [Daily Dose, 8/24/16] won 555 straight individual matches.

On this date in 1998, Trinity College began a 252-match win streak, the longest in the history of college sports.