Wednesday, October 26, 2011


TigerBlog isn't quite ready to say that he's a better athlete than Mitch Henderson and Brian Earl.

After yesterday, though, he'll go out on a limb and say that he's a better squash player. For now, at least.

TigerBlog was a longtime participant in the lunchtime basketball game at Jadwin Gym, something that has probably had about 400 or so different players in the last 20 years. TB actually made a list at one point, and it was well over 250 at that time.

Eventually, TB bailed on basketball, for a few reasons. First, there was the injury factor. Second, there was the foul shot factor.

The injury factor is self-evident. The foul shot factor is the idea that if there happened to be more than 10 players, then the winning team stayed on and the other team was filled by the players who had just sat out, with the remaining slots filled by a foul shooting contest among players who had just lost.

TB is an awful foul shooter, and really not much of a shooter beyond, oh, five feet. As a result, he had far too many play, lose, miss foul shot, sit and then play situations in his lunchtime hoops career.

If memory serves, though, it was when the floor in Jadwin was being redone one year that TB first started playing squash, a sport he had played exactly once in his life prior to then. That had been back in college, when TB and BrotherBlog played once, something TB doubts BB even remembers.

Anyway, it was with Mike Cross, now the athletic director at Bradley, that TB first played at Princeton. TB can't remember who won - but he can remember how badly his thighs and quads were burning the next day.

Since then, squash has been at least a three and sometimes five day a week activity, except for two rather lengthy injury recovery situations, neither of which was squash related.

Through the years, TB's main squash partner has been fellow OAC member Craig Sachson. TB imagines that he and Sachson have played close to 1,000 times, and Sachson probably has won 51% of the time. In other words, it's a very competitive rivalry.

There have been a few other opponents through the years, most notably former men's hockey coach Guy Gadowsky (let's just say Guy had difficulty differentiating between the concept of what happens when a puck goes into a corner and when a squash ball does) and former women's soccer assistant coach Scott Champ (for whom squash became something of an obsession).

When Mitch Henderson was hired as men's basketball coach, John Mack, the 10-time Heptagonal track champ who worked with Henderson at Northwestern, pointed out that Henderson was a squash player.

This past summer, TB, Sachson and Henderson ventured over to Dillon Gym to play a few times because of construction on the Jadwin courts. Henderson hadn't played in awhile, and the rust was evident.

Yesterday, Henderson and assistant coach Brian Earl said they'd be playing around noon and asked if TB and Sachson wanted to have something of a round-robin.

The basic format was that there'd be two simultaneous games to seven. The winners of those games would play on Court 10; the losers would play on Court 9.

It was apparent early on that Henderson has improved and that Earl is something of a beginner. As a result, the OACers never lost to the basketball coaches.

Something else that was apparent was that Henderson and Earl, both nearly 15 years removed from playing basketball at Princeton, are still extraordinary athletes. They cover the court (squash, that is) really quickly, because of both their speed and size.

What they aren't is experienced squash players. Once they figure out how to play - and assuming they continue to play - they'll get better very quickly.

Oh, and they're both super competitive, often diving on the court to try to win a point. It's the nature of their backgrounds, both as athletes and coaches.

Afterwards, TB and Sachson talked about the pressure of not wanting to be the first one to lose to Henderson, who came close a bunch of times to the magic number of seven. Once he gets one win, there'll be no reason to expect that he won't follow that with many more.

Beyond just the squash, TB couldn't help but think of all of the years he's know both Henderson and Earl, back to before they played their first minutes here.

They were kids really when TB first heard about them, from Pete Carril and Bill Carmody, who were ecstatic about having them come to Princeton.

They arrived at a time when Penn was in the midst of a 42-0 run in the Ivy League, one that included a 14-0 season in 1995, Henderson's freshman year. It would all change with Henderson and Earl, as well as Steve Goodrich, James Mastaglio, Sydney Johnson, Gabe Lewullis, Nate Walton, Mason Rocca, Chris Doyal and others.

Henderson's famous picture after the win over UCLA came his sophomore year, Earl's freshman year. The team would go 51-6 overall and 28-0 in the league the next two years, rising in to the national Top 10 in 1997-98, Henderson's senior year.

Even when the Class of 1998 graduated, Earl's senior year was special in a different way, with a win in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii, the amazing comeback win over Penn at the Palestra and then a three-game run into the NIT.

From the start of Henderson's career through the end of Earl's - a five-year stretch - TB went to 139 of the 142 games the Tigers played. He traveled with Henderson and Earl to games in five time zones and brought both to the Jadwin interview room on countless winter nights.

Together they combined to score 2,398 points at Princeton, and they helped give Tiger fans one of the greatest eras in the history of athletics at this school.

As for TigerBlog, they helped give him way more than any athletic communications person could ever have asked. Their teams were amazing to watch, especially 139 times.

Back then, TB thought both were destined to be coaches, and he's been proven right about that. Now, together, they head up the Princeton men's coaching staff as the Tigers look to defend their Ivy League championship, in a season that begins in just a little more than two weeks.

Ah, TB could go on all day about Henderson and Earl, two of his all-time favorite Princeton athletes.

But hey, it's time for squash.

UPDATE - Mitch Henderson finally got one game off of TigerBlog and Sachson in Friday's round-robin.

No comments: