On a cold night three years ago this month, I drove to Hartford, CT, to watch a men’s squash match between host Trinity College and Yale University.
Trinity won by a shutout, which was no surprise. They’d won ten national championships in a row. They hadn’t lost a match since the 1997-1998 season. After Trinity’s victory, I asked the team’s head coach, Paul Assaiante, whether the winning streak would ever end.
He smiled, shrugged, and said, “It has to shift. The streak will end, and I relish that day, because coaches do a lot more teaching when they lose than when they win.”
On Wednesday, Assaiante got what he had said he would relish three years ago.Playing in New Haven this time, Yale beat Trinity, 5 -4, snapping a winning streak that had grown to 252 matches. The 13-time defending national champions were inexperienced, at least by Trinity standards. They’d lost six starters and five All-Americans from last year’s championship squad.
A few days after his team’s first lost in 13 years, I spoke to Coach Assaiante and reminded him that he’d said he would “relish the day” the streak ended.
To his credit, he laughed. “Well, first of all, I always felt that was going be the case,” he said. “But I think I lied a little bit, because when we lost, I sat there and I thought, ‘That really sucks.'”
Back in 2009, Coach Assaiante also told me that he hoped that when Trinity did finally lose, he would be able to regard the occasion as a positive development for squash, rather than as a failure by his team. He told me Wednesday night’s result invited fans to adopt that perspective.
“My hope was always that when we lost, it wouldn’t be because we went back to the pack, but because everybody else came up to the bar. Well, now there are people jumping over our bar. So we have to catch up with them. That’s a great legacy. It means we actually made a small impact on the sport.”
The two hundred fifty two match winning streak having ended, Coach Assaiante is already attempting to motivate his players with a new goal:
“This Trinity team has a chance to do something that’s never been done before at Trinity College,” he said. “We have a chance to lose a match, or maybe a few matches, and still come out national champions. That would be the coolest thing of all.”
In an attempt to begin a new winning streak, the Trinity men’s squash team hosts Harvard today. The team national championships are scheduled for February 17-19 in Princeton, New Jersey.