The nation’s top two squash teams are set to face off today as the No. 2 Yale men’s team travels 45 minutes north to take on intrastate rival and perennial powerhouse No. 1 Trinity.
While the annual matchup between the two historically strong programs is usually starred on the calendar, this year’s has added significance: Five years ago to the day, the Bulldogs ended the Bantam’s record-breaking winning streak.
The reigning national champion Bulldogs (3–2, 2–1 Ivy) aim to bounce back against undefeated Trinity (9–0, 0–0 NESCAC) after a somewhat disappointing winter break that saw a victory over No. 10 Cornell but a pair of losses to No. 5 Columbia and No. 3 Rochester, the latter match serving as a repeat of last season’s national championship final. Yale has not been able to get the better of the Bantams since 2011, when the boys in blue ended Trinity’s legendary 13-year winning streak — the longest winning streak in the history of intercollegiate varsity sports in the United States.
“I remember reading about Yale’s win over Trinity when I was in high school,” Pierson Broadwater ’18 said. “At that point I don’t think that the thought of playing in college, let alone for Yale, had really occurred to me. But now, as a junior, having played Trinity twice, the match is one I look forward to for the whole year. Our rivalry is one of the fiercest in college squash, and it makes me proud to be part of a team that ended their historic run a few years back.”
Before that 5–4 match to which Broadwater referred, the Bantams had not lost since February of 1998 — months before Google was founded and Titanic was released in theaters. During that span, Trinity won 252 consecutive matches, a feat few teams have ever come close to challenging. Yale’s men’s swimming team had a 201-meet winning streak between 1945 and 1961; Miami’s men’s tennis won 137 straight between 1957 and 1964; and UCLA’s men’s basketball team won 88 in a row during the early 1970s. More recently, Penn State’s women’s volleyball won 109 straight matches until its streak ended in 2010, and UConn’s women’s basketball won its 91st consecutive game on Monday, surpassing the team’s 90-game undefeated streak — which ended in 2011 — as the longest college basketball run. Still, in terms of both absolute and relative numbers, Trinity’s streak is incredible.
Heading into the 2011–12 season, the Bantams had lost 12 players to graduation, including four All-Americans. Despite the losses, Trinity still impressed in the beginning of the season with six straight 9–0 victories, securing the team’s 250th straight win in the process. In the week heading into their historic loss, Trinity topped then-No. 6 Cornell and No. 8 Franklin & Marshall. Yale, too, was undefeated heading into the match. Perhaps it is only fate that then, as today, Yale ranked No. 2 and Trinity No. 1.
“It’s hard to put into words, this group has been trying for four years to break through,” Yale head coach Dave Talbott told Yale Sports Publicity in 2012. “A lot of the guys were here tonight, guys who graduated and laid the foundation, but this team — especially the seniors — wanted this so bad.”
The Bulldogs took a 3–2 lead early on with wins from No. 5 captain Ryan Dowd ’12, No. 2 Hywel Robinson ’13 and No. 6 Neil Martin ’14. A pair of swift wins at Nos. 1 and 8 turned the odds in the Bantams’ favor, however, giving them a 4–3 lead. After years of watching Trinity’s dominance, two Bulldog seniors accomplished the seemingly impossible. No. 7 Robert Berner ’12 and No. 4 John Roberts ’12 saw their matches tied 1–1 and were able to push 2–1 leads almost simultaneously. Berner tallied an 11–8 score in the fourth to tie the teams 4–4, and all eyes fell on Roberts.
Despite Roberts’ initial 2–1 lead, his opponent Johan Detter came out roaring in the fourth, grabbing a 8–1 lead en route to a 11–5 victory. With the individual match score tied 2–2 and the schools tied 4–4, just 11 points would decide history. Fate was on the Bulldogs’ side. Tensions rose as Roberts nabbed a 6–3 lead to open the game, and four serves later, Roberts was up 10–3. Detter was able to stall the blitz with a pair of lets and a point, but ultimately Roberts secured his position in the pantheon of Yale sports heroes with an 11–4 victory in the fifth.
“It feels incredible. It feels absolutely incredible,” Roberts told Yale Sports Publicity after the match. “Knowing all these guys — they’ve all worked so hard all season. The coaches have done an incredible job. For us to get a win in this match — it’s incredible, but we’ve got a long season after this so we’ve got to try to move forward from it.”
The Bulldogs have not been able to get the better of the Bantams since that evening in January of 2012. In the teams’ past two meetings Trinity was able to top Yale with 8–1 tallies, but this year’s team is confident it can return home victorious.
“I think that when Yale ended the streak a few years back it was definitely a monumental moment for Yale squash,” No. 1 Spencer Lovejoy ’20 said. “It is engraved in the minds of a lot of people. However, it’s not what we are going to be thinking about tomorrow night. Each man has their own job to do out there, and we are going to focus on getting that done. If we can each be clinical out there, you just might see another miracle happen.”
Beating Trinity is always a formidable challenge, but especially this campaign. Last season marked the first time in 19 years that the Bantams did not at least make it to the national title finals. Head coach Paul Assaiante took measures to ensure this would not happen again with an exceptionally strong recruiting class. Notably, Trinity welcomes former professional squash players Kush Kumar and Thoboki Mohohlo, the former of whom is 26 years old. The team also graduated just one top-nine player last year.
Despite the challenge before them, captain TJ Dembinski ’17 and his teammates know a win is within their reach if they maintain their focus and play disciplined squash.
The Bulldogs face Trinity at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.