Squash World Spinning On Its Axis Again As Trinity Reclaims The Title

Johan Detter Helps Orchestrate Redemption For 2012

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NEW HAVEN

— A lifetime of competitive emotion can be squeezed into that claustrophobic, glass-encased rectangle. And for Johan Detter of Trinity, so much of that thrill and agony has been found on squash court No. 3 — Shen Court — on the fourth floor of Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

It was on Shen Court that Detter fell to John Roberts of Yale, 3-2, in a decisive and historic match on Jan. 18, 2012. There he stood in bitter defeat as Trinity's 252-match winning streak — the longest of any sport in the history of intercollegiate athletics — was broken.

And it was on Shen Court of the Brady Squash Center that Detter, playing at No. 6, defeated Zachary Leman of Yale on Saturday, 3-0, in the national semifinals. And, yes, it was on Shen Court on Sunday that Detter defeated Tom Mullaney of Harvard, 3-1, as both the senior captain from Malmo, Sweden, and his Trinity mates found sweet redemption in the Bantams' 6-3 victory and 14th national title in 15 seasons.

After having its 14-year winning streak by Yale and its 13-year College Squash Association title streak broken by Princeton, the earth is back spinning on its proper axis. Once again, it's time to fear the chicken.

"Last year was really, really painful for the boys," Trinity coach Paul Assaiante said. "I don't own the wins. I really don't own the losses. My job is to protect my boys, because I love them. To see them to work so hard and be able to savor this moment is my dream. I'm so happy for them.

"I've seen teams lose and fade away. I didn't want that for Trinity College. I wanted us to be something that stands the test of time and show we could be resilient. We dedicated Saturday's match to Johan. We went out as a team to win for him. Today, we decided to go out and win it for the college."

Squash competitions are nothing if not a wild bazaar. Games go on simultaneously on various courts. At national championships, fans move from one court to another, squishing and squashing five-deep, cheering, yelling, jockeying for a sight line.

It's difficult to know the overall score at any one moment; it kind of filters word of mouth. And so it was at Trenchmen's Court at No. 7 between Trinity's Zeyad Elshorfy and Zeke Scherl of Harvard. The Crimson had gotten out to an early 2-1 lead after the first round — making Detter's victory all the more vital — but now Trinity held a 4-2 lead. And although he hadn't been around last year, the freshman from Alexandria, Egypt was about to complete the full circle of redemption.

"After we lost our streak, everyone was hungrier than ever before," Elshorfy said. "Being first year at Trinity, I was just as hungry as they were. It's an incredible family. Once you join in, you're in with all your feelings, all your attachment and loyalty. I'm so happy now, and it's not nearly as happy as I'll be in an hour."

After he had won, 11-8, 11-5, 8-11, 11-6, Elshorfy was mobbed by his teammates. Bantams fans were jumping up and down, screaming. With their team riding a new 19-0 streak, they even chanted, "It's too easy!"

"We were undefeated all season," Elshorfy said. "I'm not saying it was easy at all. It was difficult today. Coach talked to us before the Yale match; he's an incredible public speaker. He was saying, 'We don't have the finals tomorrow. This is the match we're playing for. If we win this, we are the champions. Give it all you can and please remember Yale is the team that broke our record.'"

Detter could never forget. His older brother Gustav is one of the most decorated scholar-athletes in Trinity history. Four-time All-American, graduated with a 3.93 GPA, Gustav's name was etched in Trinity legend when as a freshman he saved the streak at 134. He was down 2-0 in games and 8-7 in the third against one of the great players in college history, Yasser El Halaby of Princeton. Gustav somehow won.

"It was very tough, especially since it was my brother who kept the streak alive and I was part of it when it was broken and I was on the court," Johan said. "The way I got over it was to convince myself I was one of nine matches and by coincidence I happened to be last on. Obviously it was very tough. The good thing was I got to come back. The guys who were seniors last year never had that chance."

Yes, Gustav was there smiling Sunday, watching little brother.

"This feels so great, especially Saturday beating someone from Yale," Johan said. "I was so nervous. Today, I didn't think so much about the court. I thought back to last week, I played the same opponent [Mullaney]. It went to five, he was up 10-7, three match balls. I managed to win 12-10. He should have won it. Somehow I got lucky, played well and pulled though. I didn't want to leave it up to chance this time. I knew my position was a key position."

It was. At No. 3, Nigel Koh battled back to defeat Trinity's Miled Zarazua, 8-11, 7-11, 11-5, 12-10, 12-10. And at No. 9, Alexander Ma defeated Trinity's Matthew Mackin, 3-1. A 3-0 hole could have been insurmountable.

"Harvard had a very tough semifinal [a 5-4 victory over Princeton], and I didn't think they would be able to draw so much energy into today's match," Assaiante said. "That just shows you the heart of a champion they have. It was really hard today. We were down 2-1 and Harvard guys were celebrating. I walked up to each one of our guys and said, 'They're celebrating. This isn't over yet.' They dug deep at that moment. The emotional roller coaster is just mind-boggling."

"We knew we were in trouble with Ali Faraq [Harvard's terrific No. 1 player], which essentially put us down 3-1. Miled lost match balls at No. 3 [he was up 10-8 in the fifth]. We were in trouble. Somehow Juan Carlos Vargas, our little freshman, came back at No. 2."

Vargas lost the first game 6-11, battled to win the second 12-0 and, although he won 3-1, it was complicated by an ankle problem. Kid played his heart out.

"He was brilliant," Assaiante said. "His father was here from Colombia. His brother is my assistant coach. A wonderful day."

For the Bantams, who are 281-2 over 15 years, it was a wonderful season. They won four of the last five matches Sunday. They found their revenge against Princeton during the season. They beat Yale twice. They recaptured their glory.

"This year counts as much as the 13 we won before," Elshorfy said, "because it proves that last year was just a coincidence."

Elshorfy talked about his older teammates going around, asking "Can you imagine the day we can win it again?"

"It didn't sound like just they say that every year," the freshman said. "It sounded different. It sounded like people coming to take their revenge. Being part of that is great."

"It almost feels better this year after losing, for sure," Detter said. "Before we were expected to win. Well, we lost. To have come from behind to win today, it's just great. It's unbelievable."

Redemption, thy name is chicken.

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