Men's Squash Wins National Championship, Ends Trinity's 13-Year Run
The final drop shot he would ever hit at Jadwin was perfect. It hit the wall, the floor and then floated to the wall. His opponent, Trinity's Reinhold Hergeth, stretched to continue the match, the season and the streak, but the ball never got back above the tin.
In that moment, everybody in Jadwin Gym knew that Kelly Shannon had just ended Trinity's 13-year run as national champion. He capped a wild third-shift comeback for the Princeton Tigers, who exorcised years of 5-4 demons with a 5-4 championship victory of its own Sunday in front of a packed and enthusiastic Jadwin crowd.
Well, everybody but Shannon knew.
"I never heard Todd's match finish," Shannon said of the 3-0 win by junior Todd Harrity, a win that got Princeton to within one match of its first national championship since 1993. "I saw my crowd get a little bigger, but I thought that was just because Dylan's match had finished. When I hit that last drop and he didn't get it, I just felt relief that the match was over.
"I was ready to go out and check up on things," Shannon continued. "Sammy, who was reffing my match, jumped over the wall and started to hug me. I kept asking if we won, and he just kept screaming. So I just figured it out. That was really cool."
A championship match that took just under four hours lived up to the hype of Princeton-Trinity. With the stands packed well before the first balls were played, every point was played with significant, enthusiastic and extremely well-behaved enthusiasm from both sides of the crowd.
The win also extended Princeton's streak of consecutive years with either an individual or team national championship to 41.
The first shift was a critical one for Princeton, as the Tigers were able to get off to the quick start they needed. The first surprise of the day came at the No. 3 match, where Tiger freshman Tyler Osborne bounced back from his regular season loss to Miled Zarazua with an 11-7, 11-8, 11-9 victory. Callahan said that Osborne came into the day with a 1-8 record against Zarazua, so he found the perfect time to grab a second win.
"I was more consistent today," said Osborne, who capped a brilliant freshman season with the sweep. "I didn't make nearly as many errors as I did the last time. The crowd, and just playing here at Princeton, really made a big difference."
Trinity evened the match at 1-1 when Moustafa Hamada won a hard-fought 3-1 match at No. 9 over David Pena. The Tiger senior took the first game, but Hamada established control in an 11-5 second-game win, and he held off Pena in the next two.
On the next court, senior Clay Blackiston needed to rally from a 2-1 deficit at No. 6. He battled past Vishrab Kotian for a tight 11-9 win in the fourth, and he carried that momentum to an 11-2 victory in the fifth.
"That's probably the hardest I have ever pushed myself," Blackiston said. "Mentally, I was exhausted, but I just had to push through the pain. A lot of it was running on the adrenaline of the crowd. It was a battle. I had to go one point at a time. My dad always says to treat every point like a drop of water, and you are in the desert."
Princeton had a chance to establish control in the second shift, but Trinity used it as an opportunity to show its championship pedigree. Senior Antonio Diaz Glez rallied from a game-one loss to take the next two on the main court against Princeton senior Chris Callis at the No. 2 spot. Callis forced a fifth with an 11-7 win, but Diaz Glez was too strong in the fifth and won 11-6.
Trinity went up 3-2 when Matthew Mackin held off Princeton's Steve Harrington in four tight games. Harrington lost the first two, but he fought back for an 11-8 win in the third. Mackin grabbed a lead midway through the fifth and held Harrington off for an 11-8 win.
On the next court, Trinity's Johan Detter took on Tiger senior Samuel Kang in a showdown of similar styles but contrasting looks. Detter had at least a foot on Kang and used his reach well, but both players were content to move the ball around and wait for openings. Kang dropped the first two, but he won 11-8 in the third and led 10-7 in the fourth. Detter raised his level of play and fought off multiple game balls before finishing the match with a 13-11 win.
That left Princeton, which had lost three straight 5-4 national finals to Trinity at Jadwin, needing each of the last three matches to go its way. Sophomore Dylan Ward took control of play early in his match at No. 7 and held a sizable lead in the opener, but Juan Flores capitalized on several misses to rally for an 11-8 win.
"I played him earlier in the season, and I know he grinds as much as I do," Ward said. "I was hoping to tire him out a bit, and I knew if I wanted to win the second game and the match, I had to stay consistent and not go for too much."
Ward dominated the second game 11-1, and he grabbed leads in both the third and fourth. Flores showed spirit in fighting back in both, but Ward kept his consistency when it mattered. Ward finally got to 10-9, and Flores' shot came back into the middle, leaving him in Ward's backswing. A stroke was called, and the rejuvenated crowd celebrated a 4-3 deficit.
Making matters even better was the fact that both Harrity and Shannon were ahead 2-0. Harrity, who lost to Trinity No. 1 Vikram Malhotra during the regular season, knew he would be in for a battle. Malhotra pushed Harvard's Ali Farag, the likely top seed for the individual championships in two weeks, to five games Saturday. Harrity had no intention of doing the same, and he jumped out to wins of 11-6 and 11-8. The reigning individual national champion got out to a 9-6 lead in the third and scored the final two points to take the match and even the national final at 4-4.
"The huge crowd and the energy of the team really got me going today," Harrity said. "I was so inspired today, and I just wanted to win so badly. Playing on the court that I played on all season, I was just feeling my shots. I was really happy with how I played today.
"This is probably the best win of my life," said Harrity, who both won an individual national title and helped the U.S. World Championship team to a historic seventh-place finish last summer. "It was so emotional. With Coach tearing up, it was really special."
The tears were coming one way or another after Shannon's match at No. 4, and Callahan was happy to finally shed tears of joy. That didn't appear likely after the first few points, as Hergeth raced out to a big lead in the opening game.
"With the new ball and the crowd hanging over the ball, it was just flying around out there," Shannon said of his error-plagued start. "I think it was some nerves too. I like to play an attacking game, but it was hard to do that when the ball was super hot and flying like that. But he played with the same conditions and likes to attack as well, so I think he was just more crisp at the start."
The key stretch of the day would come when Shannon settled into the opening game and chipped away at the lead. Had he lost, he'd both be down 1-0 and had to exert the extra energy in fighting back. But he pushed his opponent into extra points and gained both a scoreboard and mental edge by taking a 13-11 win.
He was able to use his powerful drives to dictate play in an 11-8 win in the second, and he raced out to a 5-0 lead in the third. Hergeth fought back to make it 5-5, but Shannon stayed in front the rest of the way. He scored three straight to move to 9-6, and following a stroke call against him, got championship ball at 10-7. He hit his drop from the T, saw Hergeth miss the stretch, and soon found himself engulfed in teammates and fans in a championship celebration.
"I'm just so proud and happy for the guys," Callahan said after addressing the team one final time. "They really believed this year, and they really dedicated themselves to the championship this year. They committed themselves to each other, and they made it happen."
Callahan also offered kind words to Trinity, which showed incredible grace and class both during and after the match. Bantams' head coach Paul Assaiante, following the match, told the crowd how proud he was to be involved with Trinity squash, and he added that he was very happy to congratulate Callahan on the championship.
"Paul has been a good friend of mine for a long time," Callahan said. "They have gone through so much together, and they handled themselves with class today. When it was over, they were so gracious in sincerely congratulating us. We have had some really remarkable matches over the years, and this was another one."
It was remarkable, but it wasn't just another one.
It was the one.
And now, finally, Princeton is number one.
PRINCETON 5, TRINITY 4
1 - Todd Harrity (P) d. Vikram Malhotra 6,8,6
2 - Antonio Diaz Glez (T) d. Chris Callis (3),6,4,(7),6
3 - Tyler Osborne (P) d. Miled Zarazua 7,8,9
4 - Kelly Shannon (P) d. Reinhold Hergeth 11,8,9
5 - Johan Detter (T) d. Samuel Kang 9,3,(8),11
6 - Clay Blackiston (P) d. Vishrab Kotian 6,(5),(9),9,2
7 - Dylan Ward (P) d. Juan Flores (8),1,7,9
8 - Matthew Mackin (T) d. Steve Harrington 7,8,(8),8
9 - Moustafa Hamada (T) d. David Pena (9),5,8,8