Sunday, October 1, 2023

US Colleges: Princeton the new powerhouse

By Alice Su

When the Princeton University men’s squash team beat Trinity College 5-4 on Feb. 19, it didn’t just win the national championship. It ended a 13-year dynasty of Trinity victories, bringing the national title back to Mercer County for the first time since 1993.
Princeton senior Kelly Shannon hit the winning shot over Trinity’s Reinhold Hergeth in front of a wall-to-wall crowd at Jadwin Gymnasium.

“The place erupted,” said Bob Callahan, a 1977 Princeton graduate, former national squash champion and head coach of the team since 1981. “People were jumping over the back walls and coming down to congratulate the team. It was a euphoric moment for everybody involved in Princeton squash.”

This is the 41st consecutive year that Princeton athletics have won either an individual or team national championship. Last year, junior Todd Harrity won the individual men’s squash title. But Trinity’s grip on the nationals had become a sore spot in the last decade, with a series of agonizingly close losses every time Princeton faced it in the finals.

“Trinity’s been such a juggernaut,” Callahan said, “It felt like I finally exhaled after 13 years of trying to get this match. It wasn’t elation, it was relief.”

Assistant coach Neil Pomphrey said there was a feeling that the team had won “not just for themselves, but for all the people who had played in those closely fought matches in the past.”

“The weight of that national championship has hung over us for 13 years,” Shannon said, “Our goal every year was to win the national championship. That’s a lofty goal, and you train all season for it, and it’s really disappointing when the season doesn’t pan out.”

The team started this year without any reason to think it could be different from previous ones, according to Shannon. But as the season progressed, repeated recoveries from close matches raised the team’s expectations.

“We started proving to ourselves that it actually could be our season,” Shannon said, “It wasn’t just words. We had proof that we had the talent and the heart to make it happen. When we came into the final weekend, everyone was super pumped up because we actually knew we could do it.”

Princeton did lose to Trinity earlier this season, in a match on Trinity’s home court.
“Everyone was disappointed,” Pomphrey said, “But in the team meeting afterwards, we all got together in a huddle, and one of the kids decided to say, ‘Undefeated in our house.’”

That became the team’s mantra for the rest of the season. According to Pomphrey, the team got in a huddle and repeated this phrase before every match, resolved that no one would defeat Princeton on its own courts. After Shannon’s winning shot, the team gathered on the court, huddled amidst their cheering fans and chanted its finally fulfilled promise: “Undefeated in our house.”

“That was special,” Callahan said.


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