The dominance of the men's squash dynasty at little Trinity
College (enrollment 2,200) in Hartford, Conn., could hardly be
more complete. The Bantams have not lost a match--indeed, they
have rarely been challenged--in nearly six years, during which
they've won a record 105 straight. Trinity has finished atop the
final regular-season rankings for six straight years and has
taken home the last five Potter trophies by winning the College
Squash Association postseason tournament. Most significantly, the
Bantams have ended the reign of Ivy League powers Harvard, Yale
and Princeton, which, until 1998, had combined to win all but
three regular-season titles since 1942. Trinity again sits atop
this year's rankings and will be heavily favored in the Potter
tournament this weekend at Yale. "Nobody's ever had this kind of
run," says Dave Talbott, who is in his 21st season as Yale's
coach. "I'm tired of losing to them, but I'm a big fan of what
Bantams coach Paul Assaiante took over the team before the
1994-95 season, the same year the collegiate game made the switch
from American hardball to international softball, widening the
court from 18 1/2' to 21' and adopting a ball that makes for
longer, more interesting rallies. Given a mandate from Trinity's
then president, Evan Dobelle, to challenge the Ivies, Assaiante
began heavily recruiting international players. Four years later,
with a multinational squad that some have called the best college
team ever assembled, the Bantams won their first title.
"[Recruiting overseas] was an experiment," says Assaiante. "We
truly didn't know what to expect."
International players aren't new to college squash. In the last
30 years only eight men's collegiate singles titles have been won
by Americans, and there are just eight Americans in the current
top 25. Squash is played in more than 140 countries, and while it
remains a white-shoe sport in the U.S.--every American player on
the men's and women's rosters at Trinity graduated from a private
or prep school--it's very much a public game in the rest of the
world. And Assaiante tapped into the overseas talent pool like no
coach had before. "I beat Trinity 15 straight years until Paul
opened the faucet on the international scene," says Talbott.
"They went from a team of nine Americans to a team of one
American overnight. I can't recruit the same kids they can."
Assaiante and women's coach Wendy Bartlett (who has won two
straight national titles of her own) point out that of the 41
international players they've brought to Trinity--from such
countries as Botswana, Colombia, Great Britain, India, South
Africa and Zimbabwe--only one has left because of academic
trouble. Some students do extra work just to get in. Bernardo
Samper, the 2002 men's singles champion as a freshman, spent an
extra year studying English in his native Colombia in order to
attend the school. "The education is why these kids are coming,"
says James Zug, the author of the recently released Squash: A
History of the Game. "They aren't the best players for their age.
If they were, they wouldn't be here. If you want to play on the
pro tour, you don't go to college."
Whether they're the best players or not, the wealth of global
talent makes Trinity's starting lineup very difficult to crack. A
college squash match consists of nine singles matches, and for
the last four years senior Pat Malloy has been the lone American
among the Bantams' first nine players. "It's been kind of
humbling," says Malloy, who was ranked No. 2 in the U.S. as a
senior at Belmont Hill School in Belmont, Mass., but plays No. 8
for Trinity. "The depth of the team was surprising, especially
since I'd never heard of any of these guys."
Lately Assaiante has hinted that the Bantams' dominance may be
drawing to a close. The New England Small College Athletic
Conference, in which Trinity plays, has reduced the number of
athletes in all sports who can receive special consideration in
the admissions process. In effect, Assaiante has only two
preferential slots where he once had four. Ominously, Trinity
survived a 6-3 scare from Yale last month, the closest result
since a 5-4 win over Harvard four seasons ago. "Things are about
to turn," says Assaiante. "We raised the bar, and the other
schools have come up to us."
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAVID BERGMAN (2) OUT OF THE BOX Assaiante's foreign-flavored squad hasn't lost a match since March '98.
Forty-one players who have suited up for the men's and women's
squash teams at Trinity over the past nine years have come from
outside the U.S. Here's a breakdown.
South Africa 3
South Africa 5