Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- No-one had been able to beat the No.1 Trinity men's squash team since February 1998. The Bantams traveled to New Haven Wednesday night with 252 straight wins: the longest active win streak in varsity intercollegiate sports. But thanks to the Yale Bulldogs,the 13-time defending National Champions left the Brady Squash Center with a loss.
"It's hard to put into words, this group has been trying for four years to break through," said Yale head coach Dave Talbott, who has been at the Bulldog helm since 1983. "A lot of the guys were here tonight, guys who graduated and laid the foundation, but this team -- especially the seniors -- wanted this so bad."
And those seniors proved the difference. Captain Ryan Dowd took his match early on, backed by wins from junior Hywel Robinson at the two spot and sophomore Neil Martin at the six. That gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead heading into the final four matches, but a tough, hard-fought loss for senior Samuel Clayman at No. 8 pushed things to a tie, and the Bantams were able to grab a 4-3 lead with a win from Vikram Malhotra at No.1.
But after years of watching close games fall the Bantams' way, the Eli seniors responded. The only two matches left on the court were Robert Berner's No. 7 and John Roberts' No. 4 match. Both Roberts and Berner saw their matches go to 1-1, and were able to push to 2-1 leads almost simultaneously.
As they did so, word spread to the Yale community: instead of thinning out as the night got older and older, the crowd grew and grew. What that burgeoning crowd saw was an emphatic 11-8 win in game four from Berner, which meant the onus fell on Roberts to hold off Johan Detter if Yale was to pull the upset.
At first, it looked like that task would prove too much. Detter came out firing in game four, grabbing an 8-1 lead and never looking back en route to an 11-3 victory.
But Roberts was unfazed.
"I knew there was a chance it would come down to me, and as soon as Berner came off the court I could tell it was 4-4," the Belfast, Ireland, native said. "I knew I had to win my last game. Fortunately I got off to a good start."
He certainly did. The tension rose as Roberts opened up a 6-3 lead that grew to 10-3 before Detter could stall the run. When he did, a couple of lets and a Trinity point built the anticipation and set the stage for Roberts, who closed it out.
"It feels incredible. It feels absolutely incredible," Roberts said. "Knowing all these guys -- they've all worked so hard all season. The coaches have done an incredible job. For us to get a win in this match -- it's incredible, but we've got a long season after this so we've got to try to move forward from it."
But before they look to the remaining eight games of their regular-season schedule -- and a potential national championship rematch with the Bantams -- no-one could blame the Bulldogs for looking back. For two straight seasons prior to this one, Yale found itself in the national title match. In two straight seasons, Trinity forced the Bulldogs to settle for second. The Bantams' 252-match run is widely regarded as the longest winning streak in the modern history of collegiate athletics. Period.
Thanks to Yale, that streak is history.