Upsets Increase Squash Parity

Stop, Copp, and Roll

Until Jan. 18 of this year, the Trinity men’s squash team was untouchable, taking home a nearly unfathomable 13 straight national titles on a 252-match winning streak. But less than a week ago at Yale’s Brady Squash Center, the top-ranked Bantams’ run came to an end, as the No. 2 Bulldogs pulled off a dramatic, 5-4 upset.

To say Trinity’s run is impressive would be a gross understatement.

But the fact that the longest winning streak in the history of intercollegiate athletics became a reality on the squash court rather than another venue in another sport shouldn’t be that surprising. In the history of men’s college squash, dating back to 1942, exactly five different schools have earned the title of national champion. Yes, you read that correctly: just five teams over the course of nearly seven decades.

Harvard ranks right at the top of that list with 30 national championships to its name, including two six-year streaks as well as five in a row from 1994 to 1998.

Trinity’s 13 titles push the school to a not-so-close second place on the all-time scale. And Yale and Princeton cap off the Ivy League’s dominance of the national squash scene with 12 and 10 national championships, respectively. And for those of you keeping count: the United States Naval Academy earned the remaining three titles.

But with the recent fall of Trinity at the hands of the Bulldogs—and the effective end of a streak dating back to the year after the movie Titanic graced the box office with its record-breaking presence—there is decidedly more parity on a national scale this season than the squash world has ever seen.

Before the start of the 2011-2012 campaign, Ancient Eight teams met up during preseason for the annual Ivy Scrimmages. No. 5 Harvard came out on top, claiming a 5-4 victory over the Bulldogs in the finals of the single-elimination bracket after taking down No. 3 Princeton in the semis.

Put that together with the 5-4 Yale victory over Trinity and the fact that Harvard fell to Princeton by the same score, and you have at least four teams seriously contending for the national title—none of which are undefeated.

And don’t count out Rochester and Cornell—two teams that are looking to put their name on the trophy for the first time. Yale and the Yellowjackets battled to a 5-4 Bulldog victory on Saturday, while Cornell fell to Yale by the same score earlier this year.

Trinity bounced back from its ninth loss in coach Paul Assaiante’s time at the helm of the program—the coach has amassed 312 wins as of this weekend—with a commanding 7-2 victory over the Crimson.

For purpose of contrast, let’s jump back to the 2010-2011 campaign in which the preseason rankings for the top seven schools in the nation exactly matched the outcome of the national championship bracket. And all seven of those top schools—in order: Trinity, Yale, Princeton, Rochester, Harvard, Cornell, and Dartmouth—finished the year in exactly the same slot as in 2009-2010.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some upsets leading up to Trinity’s 13th Potter Cup, including No. 6 Cornell’s midseason takedown of Harvard. But overall, the preseason rankings were absurdly indicative of the season’s outcome.

No matter which team emerges victorious at the end of the current season, the road to the Potter Cup will likely be a lot more, as sophomore Gary Power put it after his team’s recent match against the Bantams, "interesting."

All eyes are on Yale right now, who—after beating Trinity—has established itself as a team to beat this year. And the recent, major victory in New Haven is cause for fans of Ivy League squash (and competitive sports in general) to celebrate. But the Bulldogs themselves shouldn’t throw any parties just yet.

Trinity still has a streak to defend—in my eyes, a more important one than 252 straight wins—and that’s 13 national titles in a row.

The Bantams made quick work of Harvard this Saturday, taking down the Crimson in five straight matches on the way to the 7-2 victory. And as they say all too often in sports: it’s not over ’til it’s over. With about a month still to play until Princeton hosts the CSA Team Championships, the 2011-2012 squash season really is just beginning.

—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger be reached at ccoppinger@college.harvard.edu.

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