Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Assaiante is Key to Men’s Squash’s National Success

ALEX DAHLEM ’20

SPORTS EDITOR

As the Trinity men’s squash program racked up its 17th National Championship in the past 20 years last weekend with a 6-3 victory over the Harvard Crimson, truth-seekers and sports junkies alike can’t help but ask that one existential question; why? What is it that makes a small liberal arts school, hardly distinguishable from Trinity College in Dublin, so attractive to the world’s best squash players? Why is Trinity able to bring schools such as Yale, Harvard, and Princeton to their knees with dazzling drop shots and merciless kills? For the avid sports reader, proposed answers to these questions canbe found all over local and national journalism, most notably in a 2011 New York Times Magazine article. Experts will say that Trinity is less prestigious than the Ivies, therefore making admission and recruiting easier. Others might even say that the success can be traced back to a 1996 meeting between then school President Evan Dobelle and head coach Paul Assaiante, during which Dobelle gave Assaiante the permission (and the funds) to scour for recruits beyond the preppy northeast corridor. These critics overlook a key aspect of Trinity squash; the sense of family that persists despite international diversity.

During this year’s National Championship match against Harvard, Andrew Lee ’20 of Malaysia, Thoboki Mohohlo ’19 of South Africa, and Tom De Mulder ’19 of Belgium sat in the locker room before their matches watching their fellow teammates play on a live stream TV feed. The intensity of thousands of screaming fans one floor above had confined the anxious players to the solitude of their locker room. As they sat there, the nervous onlookers couldn’t help but get excited for their fellow Bantams, shouting at the TV and living out each point with the same intensity as the competitors. “We treat each other like a family. We are united,” said Lee as he recounted the events of that historic day.

A sense of unity and brotherhood is often times complicated and difficult to attain in an individual sport, but the Trinity Men’s Squash team has predicated their continuous success on a sense of collective unity, a difficult task for a team that is represented by 14 different countries. Lee, who went on to win his match and clinch the title for the Bantams, acknowledged the brotherhood that transcends national boundaries and Head Coach Assaiante’s role in creating that atmosphere: “He [Assaiante] ties it up. Despite all of these barriers we are still a family.”

Trinity’s situation and sucess might be unique and incomprehensible on the surface, but spending time with the players and seeing their passion for the sport and each other explains the wild success that they have had. Sure they might have the luxury of more relaxed NESCAC recruiting rules, but that alone cannot explain 17 National Championships in 20 years or a 252 match winning-streak that spanned three decades. The answer is Assaiante. Tasked with molding a group of players from all different backgrounds into one well-oiled squash machine is not simple, but it is a skill that Assaiante has mastered time and time again. The critics and pundits will talk all they want, criticizing Assaiante for taking advantage of a more opportune system instead of achieving success on his own volition and hard work, but Lee and the rest of the team know the real key to success: “Without him, the program wouldn’t exist… It’s all him.”

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