Retrospective On The 2012 Potter Cup College Team Championship
By Rob Dinerman, for

Jadwin Gymnasium

Dateline February 21st, 2012
---- “The last 13 years I woke up happy. Today I woke up proud.” Those simple but profoundly eloquent sentences summarized Trinity College coach Paul Assaiante’s reaction to Princeton’s epic and historic 5-4 victory over his team Sunday afternoon at Jadwin Gymnasium in the final round of the Potter Cup that ended Trinity’s record-shattering 13-year run as champions and crowned the host Tigers winners of the college team championship for the 2011-12 season. Trinity, a 7-2 winner over Princeton in the dual-match in Hartford several weeks ago, had beaten Princeton 5-4 in each of the last three times that the event had been held at Jadwin (in 2009, Trinity star Baset Chaudhry had run off nine straight points to win 9-5 after trailing Mauricio Sanchez 5-love in the fifth game of the deciding No. 1 match under the nine-point system that had been in force back then), and led four matches to two after two three-match shifts this time as well, with one of Princeton’s pair of wins, a crucial outcome in retrospect, occurring at No. 6, where Clay Blackiston overcame a two-games-to-one deficit by winning a taut 11-9 fourth game against Vishrab Kotian and pressing this momentum through the 9-2 fifth.

In the third and final shift, Princeton No. 7 Dylan Ward, leading 2-1 in games but trailing 9-8 in the fourth, won the final three points (the last on a stroke call) to close out his Bantam opponent Juan Flores, and reigning Intercollegiate Individual champion Todd Harrity dominated Trinity’s Vikram Malhotra, who had won their dual-meet match, in straight sets at No. 1. By the time Harrity (whose uncle, Tom Harrity, had won the US National 40-and-over Hardball title in New York earlier in the day and had rushed off to Penn Station to arrive at Jadwin to watch his nephew lead his team to victory) had completed his win, his teammate Kelly Shannon, winner of the last match on court in an important early-January 5-4 win over Harvard, had moved out to a two-games-to-love lead over Reinhold Hergeth, having erased Hergeth’s substantial first-game lead to take that game 13-11 and followed up with a solid 11-8 tally in the second.

Hergeth was fighting from behind throughout the third game (down 0-5, got to 5-all before trailing 6-9) but fought his way back to 9-10 before Shannon pulled off a storybook ending to his stand-out Princeton career, nursing a well-placed drop shot that a stretched-out Hergeth could not steer back into play, setting off pandemonium in the completely packed gallery (there were many more attendees than space to accommodate them, with many spectators watching in the recreation room near the courts on a big Jumbotron screen that had been set up at stadium level) as Shannon was mobbed by his jubilant teammates, who were celebrating Princeton’s 11th national team title and its first since 1993, when the colleges were still playing hardball squash before switching to softball beginning with the 1994-95 season.

Princeton’s semifinal opponent on Saturday was a Cornell squad still riding high from the 8-1 thrashing they had administered to third-seeded Yale, Trinity’s Potter Cup co-finalist in 2010 and 2011, early Friday afternoon, a triumphant moment for Cornell (their first-ever advance to the Potter Cup semis and the first top-four finish in school history) and a brutal pride-goes-before-a-fall conclusion to a Bulldog season that had looked so bright less than a month earlier after their January 18th 5-4 home win over Trinity that ended the Bantam consecutive-meets streak at 252. That outcome sparked what struck many as an unseemly (and demonstrably unhelpful) cascade of self-congratulation in New Haven emanating from the players, the coaching staff and especially the Sports Information Department, which should have been --- but wasn’t --- chastened enough by a public relations disaster surrounding Yale athletics just this past autumn to have moderated its tone.

Back in November, the Department had put forth an “embarrassment of riches” story about the choice facing star quarterback Patrick Witt between playing the season-defining football game against Harvard or attending a Rhodes Scholarship interview scheduled for the same day, a feel-good account that collapsed on every front: Witt threw three interceptions as his team got shelled 45-7, the head coach’s claim to have once been a Rhodes applicant himself was disputed and he was forced to resign, and it was later learned that even before the Harvard game the Rhodes administrators had already terminated Witt’s application amid sexual-assault accusations from a female student at Yale. Evidently unfazed by that still-recent highly publicized embarrassment, or by the squash team’s 8-1 loss to Princeton less than three weeks ago in a meet that determined the Ivy League title, the Elis continued right through most of last week to hype what they insisted on calling their “magical” season, which ended with them being brusquely bounced into the Consolation draw and relegated to the back courts, where they finished sixth after losing to the University of Rochester as well, the lowest end-of-season placement for the Elis in more than a quarter-century.

Cornell’s semifinal vs. Princeton was closer than the 7-2 score (there were four five-game matches, three of which landed in Princeton’s column), but so was Trinity’s grueling 6-3 battle in the balancing semi against Harvard that immediately followed Princeton-Cornell and that consumed nearly six hours, not ending until 9:30 (just 15 hours before the next-day final began), by which time five route-going marathons had been played (including three matches in which a Trinity player won after trailing 2-1 at the break) and there were two other Trinity wins that had come by two-point margins in the close-out fourth game. The top teams in college squash are so closely matched (three of the last four Potter Cup finals have been decided by 5-4 margins) that factors like differing pre-final paths, home-court advantage and an 11-9 or tiebreaker game either way can sometimes be enough to spell the difference.

In the end, longtime Princeton coach Bob Callahan and his heroic cast led by Harrity, Shannon and captain and No. 2 player Chris Callis fully deserved their championship, while for his part Assaiante, extraordinarily gracious in this rare moment of defeat, sent off a letter early Monday morning to Trinity’s alumni in which he congratulated Princeton but also saluted his own players for their “courage and class”, for going “all in” in pursuit of the championship and for “representing this game, this program and this college in the absolute finest ways possible.”


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