Paul Assaiante Retires As Trinity College’s Head Men’s Squash Coach After 29 Years and 17 National Team Championships    
by Rob Dinerman

Dateline March 17, 2023 --- Earlier this week Paul Assaiante, 70, whose legendary career as the head coach of the Trinity College men’s squash team has been highlighted by 17 Potter Cups emblematic of the men’s national team college championship, including 13 in a row from 1999-2011; 22 Potter Cup final-round appearances during the 23-year period from 1997-2019 (with one more to follow in 2023, hence 23 finals overall); and a 252-match winning streak, announced that is he retiring after 29 years at the helm. “I have plenty left to give and still feel as passionate as ever about helping Trinity College,” he said. “But my body has betrayed me and the men deserve a younger and more vibrant person to lead them forward.”

Although the 13 straight titles, 23 Potter Cup finals (including 19 in a row from 1997-2015) and 252 consecutive dual-meet victories are all not only record-breaking but record-shattering figures --- the previous records were six straight national team championships, seven consecutive Potter Cup final-round advances and 72 dual-meet wins in a row, and the 252 figure represents the longest winning streak in the history of intercollegiate varsity sports (meaning any sport, not just squash) --- the numbers alone are only part of Assaiante’s overall multi-front legacy. So too are the many honors he has received over the years --- inducted into the U. S. Squash, College Squash Association, Maryland State Squash and Springfield College (his alma mater) Halls of Fame (in 2016, 2021, 2014 and 2016 respectively), he has also twice been named United States Olympic Committee Coach of the Year, is a three-time recipient of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Coach of the Year Award and earned Awards from the Hartford Business Bureau, received a Trinity College Trustee of Excellence Award and was named the Trinity College Athletic Department Coach of the Year.

Much more significant in terms of its long-lasting impact has been the manner in which the Trinity College men’s team, under Assaiante’s guidance, has transformed college squash’s competitive landscape. It was Assaiante who led the way, in the wake of a now-famous meeting he had during the spring of 1996 with Trinity College President Evan Dobelle, by dramatically expanding the recruitment of college players, which previously had been largely “local” in nature --- limited for the most part to New England prep school players and those from the Philadelphia Main Line, the Greenwich/Rye area and vaunted junior programs from clubs like Heights Casino in Brooklyn or the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford --- to the point where the top junior squash players from overseas now routinely are major factors in every top-tier college program. In the semifinals of the recent 2023 Potter Cup tournament, as one example, the nine players in the lineup of eventual-champion Harvard University each came from different countries spread out over five continents. All of the coaches of colleges with elite squash programs recruit internationally nowadays, following with varying degrees of success the trail that was initially blazed by Coach Assaiante, who was the first to have the vision to take what at the time was considered a revolutionary step in the wake of the colleges’ decision to switch from hardball to softball after the 1993-94 season. In addition to the Trinity College team championships --- which include 16 consecutive NESCAC titles --- Assaiante has coached 47 All-Americans and four Intercollegiate Individual champions, namely Marcus Cowie in 1997 and 1998, Bernardo Samper in 2002, Baset Chaudhry in 2008 and 2009 and Mohamed Sharaf at the 2023 Championship earlier this month.

However, most far-reaching of all have been the relationships and life-long friendships he has formed with his legion of players over the years --- Sharaf, who, as noted, gave Coach Assaiante the best possible going-away present by winning the Intercollegiate Individuals championship two weeks ago, has called him “like a second father to me,” echoing what scores of Assaiante’s other players have said about him. Perhaps his strongest and most salient quality during his nearly three decades in Hartford has been his ability to take a bunch of excellent individual players from different countries (including some countries that are not on friendly terms with each other) in a very individual sport and mold them into a true team, one in which every member is playing for his fellow teammates at least as much as for himself and everyone is “all in” in their commitment to the team’s success to such a degree that “All In” was actually the title of a 55-minute documentary that Trinity senior Marc DiBenedetto, who had traveled with the team on road trips and assiduously chronicled its journey throughout the 2012-13 championship season as part of an independent study class credit, presented to Trinity’s men’s and women’s teams at the school’s Cinestudio that spring (the film later attracted lots of viewers on Youtube).

In addition to his squash coaching commitments at Trinity College, Assaiante also served two substantial stints as U. S. Squash National Team Coach, in which capacity he led the U. S. men’s team --- consisting of Julian Illingworth, Gilly Lane, Todd Harrity and Chris Gordon --- to sixth place at the 2011 World Team  Championships in Paderborn, Germany, the highest-ever finish for an American team in this biennial event.  Then, in 2019, he and his assistant coach (and former PSA No. 1) Thierry Lincou guided the U. S. men’s and women’s teams to a combined five gold medals (out of only seven total events) in Lima, Peru, in the quadrennial Pan American Games. Amanda and Sabrina Sobhy and Olivia Clyne won the women’s team event, Amanda Sobhy won the women’s individual crown and the Sobhy sisters won the women’s doubles, while Todd Harrity, Chris Hanson and Andrew Douglas won the men’s team title and Harrity and Hanson won the men’s doubles.  Assaiante himself won the U. S. National 50-and-over softball title in 2003, nine years after he had partnered Gordon Anderson to the U. S. National Doubles 40-and-over championship in 1994.

Assaiante, who, prior to arriving at Trinity College, had coached the men’s squash and tennis teams at Army from 1976-85 and at Williams College from 1988-91, also coached the Trinity men’s tennis team for the first 19 of his 29 years in Hartford and served as the Director of Athletic Development at Trinity for seven years, spearheading the College's effort to upgrade its athletic facilities during that time. His fund-raising efforts produced two new synthetic outdoor fields, a premier squash facility, a new boathouse and a community ice skating center for the College. In addition, more than $11 million was raised with recent projects that included new baseball and softball diamonds.  Trinity's remodeled tennis courts were christened as the Paul D. Assaiante Tennis Center in the fall of 2010.

Coach Assaiante fully plans to remain at Trinity College in a supportive role, working with the Athletics Director on projects related to sport, while also providing the benefit of his 41 total years’ worth of college squash coaching experience --- nine at Army, three at Williams, 29 at Trinity --- to the next head men’s squash coach as soon as one is appointed. Although Paul Assaiante’s coaching career has now ended, his presence and the handprint he has left on Trinity squash, college squash and squash as a whole will be felt, acknowledged and praised for generations to come.