As TigerBlog sits down to write this entry, Duke is finishing up a victory over North Carolina. Somewhere, TB’s good friend and former co-worker David Rosenfeld is putting his head through the wall.
It’s not that David likes North Carolina. He’s a Terrapin guy. But he hates Duke. Somewhat like TB hates shoveling snow right now, he hates the Dukies.
If you’ve been a regular follower of this blog, you know that the New York Yankees don’t get a whole lot of support from TB Headquarters. David doesn’t like the Yankees, either. If Coach K ever put on a Derek Jeter jersey, Gilman would be looking for a new public relations specialist.
But we are far from the only people with strong feelings towards Duke, or the Yankees, or the Los Angeles Lakers, or the New England Patriots, or Tiger Woods (the pre-Thanksgiving crash one, at least). When you are the reigning dynasty, or have been one for a long enough period, you elicit strong emotions from both sides of the fence. This TB’s father-in-law loves Duke, so its inevitable Sweet 16 loss is always a tough night for him.
Whichever side of the fence you are on about those teams isn’t the issue here. If you follow that sport, you are on one side of the fence or the other. If you love baseball, you may be neutral about the Kansas City Royals. You aren’t about the Yankees.
And none of them have won their last 220 games.
On Feb. 22, 1998, the Harvard men’s squash team won the Potter Cup national team championship. The Crimson defeated Trinity that day. One month later, Titanic won the Oscar for best motion picture.
Since then, you’ve seen Titanic 2,749,281 times on TNT. But you haven’t seen Trinity lose another men’s squash match.
Trinity, a small Division III school in Hartford, Conn., has won 11 straight national team championships in men’s squash, including one last year that came after a 6+ hour 5-4 victory over Princeton in a match TB will never forget. The Bantams have won 220 straight matches, two straight individual national titles and have defeated the next two ranked teams in the country this season by a combined 16-2 score.
David would hate Trinity.
If you want to know how Trinity reached this level of dominance, ESPN.com did a story on it after last season’s championship win (http://sports.espn.go.com/ncaa/news/story?id=3927303). That isn’t the point of this entry. The question here is simple:
Is Trinity good for college squash?
On Saturday afternoon, Princeton will try to do what nobody has since the Bill Clinton administration and defeat the Bantams; to make it tougher, the Tigers will try to do it on their own home court. Princeton is the fourth-ranked team in the country. When fully healthy, though, the Tigers have the top-heavy talent and overall depth to match up with anybody.
Truth be told, they’ve had that for years. From Yasser El-Halaby to “The Amigos,” Princeton was the dominant team in Ivy League men’s squash for the last decade. But it never defeated Trinity, and sometimes, it wasn’t even close.
By dominating international recruiting for a long period of time, Trinity became unbeatable. Princeton has a freshman No. 1 this year named Todd Harrity, who comes from the Philadelphia area and could be the top-ranked player in the country as early as next season.
Harrity is Mr. Exception, not Mr. Rule.
Trinity’s top player is Baset Chaudhry, a prodigy from Pakistan who has the body of an All-Ivy linebacker. It was a Swedish player (Gustav Detter) who knocked off El-Halaby in a 2006 match that was Trinity’s closest near-loss experience since the turn of the century. It was an Indian player (Parth Sharma) who was two points from defeat in last year’s national final.
Trinity forced the rest of the squash community to span the globe for talent. Rochester, which is trying to mirror Trinity’s rise and is led by A.D. George VanderZwaag, a former Princeton assistant A.D., has a strong international corps atop a lineup that can compete with anybody. Yale and Princeton both have their fair share of international stars.
TB predicts that this will all lead to the most exciting team championship weekend we’ve seen in quite some time. Maybe the final won’t match last year’s drama — it’s a near impossible task — but for the first time in recent memory, both of the semifinal matches could be as exciting as the final. Team championship Saturdays have been mere formalities most of the time, especially on Trinity’s side of the draw. This year could be different, and fans of the sport are the biggest winners there.
That doesn’t happen without Trinity dominating the scene. Maybe there are 100 consecutive victories still to come. Maybe there isn’t one. Either way, having this one dominant power has raised an entire sport.
Whether David likes it or not.