HARTFORD — Jim Stephens, who is retiring as coach of the Brunswick School squash team after 35 highly successful seasons, received the perfect parting present from his squad on Sunday.The Bruins won an unmatched fifth national title in six seasons and did so in as dominant as fashion as possible.
Stephens is receiving quite a squash send-off from his team, which won the Division I title at the 2020 HEAD U.S. Team Squash Championships, with a 7-0 victory over Episcopal Academy at Trinity College.
Top Brunswick (12-0) became the first team in the tournament’s 16-year history to register a 7-0 win in the championship match. Additionally, Brunswick is the only team to win all four of its matches in the tournament’s 16-team Division I bracket by 7-0 scores.
“On this team, we have nine players, who I can put at any position, that’s the type of depth we have,” Stephens said. “It’s now, without a doubt, the best team Brunswick has ever had.”
Brunswick’s lineup has four seniors, who have appeared in four consecutive national title matches, winning the last three. Sunday’s triumph falls into the extra special category.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for everyone,” said Bruins senior tri-captain Nick Spizzirri, who plays at the No. 1 spot. “We are all proud to see that all our hard work has paid off this year. To win it with it being coach Stephens’ last year is a huge part of it. It inspired us to play harder, knowing it is his last year.”
Mac Aube, a junior, was off the court first for the Bruins on Sunday. Aube, who plays at No. 4, defeated Episcopal Academy’s Nikhil Kakarla, 11-8, 11-1, 11-7.
“It felt really good to win that first match, it kind of set the tone for the match,” Aube said. “He was trying to overpower me, but I was trying to hit my straight lines, hit my rails and just put the ball away when I had my opportunities.”
Like his teammates, Aube competed with his coach on his mind.
“We’re playing for Mr. Stephens,” Aube said. “It means so much to get his last win for him at Trinity.”
Senior tri-captain Brian Leonard followed with a 3-1 triumph for Brunswick at the No. 3 spot against Sameer Saxena (11-6, 11-6, 1-11, 11-7).
“I knew I had to come out strong, because the early matches set the tone for everyone else,” said Leonard, who will compete on the squash team at Yale University next season. “I came out firing, winning the first two games, then I kind of changed my game plan, but I knew I had to come back in the fourth game and win it. Episcopal has won four national championships and we won four national championships coming into this match. So this was a match to see who gets that fifth title first.”
Like last season when it defeated Haverford School for the U.S. Division I title, Dana Santry won the clinching match. Santry, also a captain, swept Episcopal’s Tom Hogan at No. 2, 14-12, 11-3, 11-6.
“It’s my last year here, it’s also Mr. Stephens’ last year here, which validates the meaning of the match,” said Santry, who will play at the University of Pennsylvania next season. “We have prepared so hard for this and it’s really rewarding to see what we can do.”
Santry was familiar with is foe in the finals.
“I played him three times this year, he’s a runner, so the first game I tried not to make errors and keep the point going,” he said.
Spizzirri will join Santry at Penn in the fall, where he will also play squash. He topped Shaam Gambhir, 5-11, 11-5, 11-9, 12-10.
“I was glad to close that out in four, I didn’t want to play a fifth game,” Spizzirri said. “Everyone played great, the younger players outdid themselves today.”
Sophomore Patrick Keller notched a 3-1 win for Brunswick at No. 6 (6-11, 11-7, 11-3, 12-10), while junior Coulter Mackesy (No. 7) swept to an 11-7, 11-8, 11-4 victory at the seventh spot.
Senior Williams College-bound Pierce Henderson was a 3-0 winner (11-3, 13-11, 11-6) at the fourth matchup.
“I had never played him before, so I didn’t know what to expect,” Henderson said. “Being part of this team, which is one of the best Brunswick has ever had, is amazing. To be on a team with such high caliber players has really prepared me to play at the next level.”
After Brunswick clinched the match and another national title, Stephens reflected on the program’s status.
“For me, it feels great to go out this way,” said Stephens, a New Canaan resident, who prior to coaching at Brunswick coached varsity soccer at the University of Virginia and also served as the school’s tennis coach. “I’m very proud of where the program is right now. It feels great to see this program grow the way it has over the years.”
“On our team, they are all really good athletes, who play with great intensity,” Stephens said. “They all get along and take the court with a great attitude.”
Said Leonard: “We dedicated our season to him (Stephens), because this is his last year after 35 years. It would mean a lot for him to go out with a championship.”