Three years after hosting arguably the greatest championship match in the history of college squash, the second-ranked Princeton Tigers have rounded into form at the perfect time and are ready to take another shot at the sport's biggest prize.
The top eight programs in the nation will make their way to the Jadwin Squash Courts this weekend for the 2012 CSA Potter Cup Championships, which begin Friday at noon and will continue through the 12:30 championship match Sunday. While 13-time reigning champion Trinity will lead the field, the depth of talent within the quarterfinalists is as strong as it has ever been.
Princeton, which earned the second seed by sweeping through the league and capturing its 17th Ivy title, will open play Friday afternoon at 1:30 against seventh-seeded Dartmouth; Princeton scored an 8-1 road victory in Hanover last month.
A win would send Princeton into the 11:30 a.m. semifinal, which would be against either third-seeded Yale or sixth-seeded Cornell. The depth in the field is evident in this quarterfinal; Yale scored a 5-4 home victory over the Big Red on the same day Princeton defeated Dartmouth. Of the nine Yale-Cornell matches, only three were 3-0 scores and Yale won one match 14-12 in the fifth.
The winner will face the survivor of the top half of the draw, which has been Trinity-owned real estate since its championship reign began in 1999. This could be the Bantams' toughest road to the final, though. Following a quarterfinal against Franklin & Marshall Friday afternoon (4), Trinity will face either fourth-ranked Harvard or fifth-ranked Rochester Saturday at 2:30.
Trinity defeated Harvard 7-2 during the regular season, though the Bantams won three matches by 3-2 scores and three others by 3-1 scores. Trinity also beat Rochester 7-2, though two of its wins went five games.
Princeton's lone loss this season came at Trinity (7-2) in the Tigers' first match following the finals break. Princeton lost three matches by 3-2 scores, and two of those were two-point losses in the fifth game.
GoPrincetonTigers.TV will provide live video coverage of five matches this weekend, including both semifinals and Sunday's championship final. Friday's coverage from courts 1-2-3 will include both the Princeton-Dartmouth and Trinity-Franklin & Marshall matches; both the Yale-Cornell and Harvard-Rochester matches will be played on courts 8-10.
For Princeton head coach Bob Callahan, this will be his fourth straight opportunity to capture the national team championship with a memorable senior class. In his first three, he came up one match short.
In 2003, seniors Will Evans, David Yik, Dan Rutherford and Eric Pearson led Princeton to a renaissance in the Ivy League. After not winning an Ivy title throughout the 1990s, that crew brought an Ivy title as freshmen, and they followed with two more before lining up against Trinity for the 2003 national championship. They stepped one spot backwards in the lineup after the arrival of freshman phenom Yasser El Halaby, who would go on to win his first of four straight individual titles that season.
Princeton won in each of the top four positions in the lineup. Trinity won everywhere else.
Trinity 5, Princeton 4.
Three years later, El Halaby was the star of the sport and the eventual Roper Trophy recipient as the top senior male student-athlete at Princeton. He was bolstered by three freshmen who formed another formidable force at the top of the lineup.
Once again, Princeton won in each of the top four positions in the lineup. Trinity won everywhere else.
Trinity 5, Princeton 4.
Three years later, those three freshmen were the well-known "Amigos" of the four-time reigning Ivy League champion. Mauricio Sanchez, Kimlee Wong and Hesham El Halaby led one of the strongest teams in the history of the league. Princeton had won 12 straight Ivy matches by a combined individual game score of 322-2.
Trinity brought arguably its best of 13 national championship teams to Jadwin for what turned into a 6.5-hour epic.
Trinity led 1-0. Princeton led 2-1. Trinity led 3-2. Princeton led 4-3.
Princeton was two points away from a championship on one court and four points away on the other, but Trinity came away with two five-game victories to win its 11th straight championship by the same 5-4 score.
This year, Callahan will send four more seniors into the Potter Cup Championships, including co-captains Chris Callis and Kelly Shannon, both of whom played in the 2009 final. Callis and Shannon play the No. 2 and 4 positions for Princeton, and they are both enjoying healthy and successful finishes to injury-plagued careers. No. 6 Clay Blackiston has been Princeton most consistent player over the last month, while veteran David Pena has worked his game back into form in time to play No. 9 in his final home weekend.
Princeton will have each class represented by at least one player in the remaining five spots, including a junior class of No. 1 Todd Harrity and No. 8 Steve Harrington. Harrity, the reigning individual national champion, has never lost a match at Jadwin, while Harrington posted the clinching wins against both Yale and Cornell.
Sophomore Dylan Ward played a huge role in the Ivy title as well, as he won the clincher at 4-4 against Harvard in January. Ward, who plays No. 7, has lost only match this season and has been one of the best stories of the season for Princeton, which was viewed as an underdog to both Harvard and Yale prior to the season.
Like each of the previous three finalists mentioned here, the 2012 Princeton team has strong freshmen near the top of the lineup. Both Tyler Osborne (No. 3) and Samuel Kang (No. 5) have played with the poise of veterans, and both could provide key early wins for Princeton this weekend.
Full coverage of the weekend will be available on GoPrincetonTigers.com.