LEWISTON — As Bobby Burns walked onto the court in the late stages of his match, the freshman couldn’t help but recognize the opportunity before him.

Burns and his Bates College men’s squash team were playing Trinity College last year. The Bantams are the most dominant team in all of college sports, and Burns had a chance to beat one of them.

“I can’t remember how the game score went,” said Burns, now a sophomore. “I remember coming off the court after the fourth game and thinking, ‘It’s one game and the rest of my life. It’s right here. Moments like this don’t come often. This is what you play for.'”

With his teammates, fans and family cheering him on, Burns was able to win his match. Bates lost to Trinity that day, 8-1, but Burns had still achieved something unique. He still has the game ball from that match and cherishes that experience.

“That was a pretty special moment for me,” said Burns. “I was very patient with my game plan. I didn’t get too down on myself or too up. I tried to maintain a constant mental equilibrium. I guess I just confused my opponent and frustrated him as much as I could and got inside his head. They’re not used to that. They’re not used to being challenged that much.”

The Bobcats hope to give the Bantams another challenge Sunday. Bates has the rare opportunity to host Trinity at the Bates College Squash Center.

“I’m so excited to play them, especially here at home,” said Kush Mahan, a senior captain. “We’ll have our fans here and stuff. You’re playing some of the best players in the world. A lot of them will be the top in the world when they turn pro. It really shows how good you are and really gives you a chance to get better.”

Trinity squash has taken success in college athletics to a new level. The Bantams have won 11 straight National Championships. They haven’t lost since Harvard beat them February 22, 1998, and their winning streak of 202 games is the longest in any collegiate sport.

“For them to play us here is a great honor,” said Jordan Greenberg, a senior captain. “A team with an 11-year winning streak, they’re definitely someone to measure up against and aspire to be like, both for the work ethic, their game as a whole and how they come together as a team.”

This year’s Trinity club is expected to continue its dominance. The Bantams were ranked first in the College Squash Association (CSA) preseason poll. Two-time defending CSA individual champion Baset Chaudhry leads a list of eight Bantams that are ranked in the top 25 in the nation.

“Their coach (Paul Assaiante) is one of the best out there, and they have some really special players,” said Bates Coach Pat Cosquer. “They’ve got international talent, the best. Squash is very individualistic. It’s me versus you. If I’ve had better training, been playing longer and have better coaching, I’m probably going to win. Their players are better and the coach is one of the best. That combination is deadly. It’s hard to beat.”

Trinity collects some of the most talented and diverse squash players from around the world. Without the academic restraints of the Ivy League schools, the Bantams are able to attract a wealth of talent, even with a budget of just $8,000. Cosquer can’t remember the last time Bates beat Trinity, or if it ever has. For a team that aspires to be one of the top programs in the country, playing the likes of Trinity’s talent is only going to help that cause.

“It’s exciting,” said Cosquer. “It’s a good kind of test and barometer for our program. Trinity is obviously the benchmark for all of us.”

Trinity is just one of many highly-ranked teams the Bobcats will play this season. They play eight teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation, including second-ranked Princeton, fourth-ranked Yale and fifth-ranked Harvard.

Bates has always played the Bantams in Hartford, Conn, but to have them come to Maine shows a level of appreciation and respect that makes this Sunday’s 11 a.m. match very special.

“It’s like the University of Texas in football coming across the country to play the Bates College football team,” said Cosquer. “It’s a really special opportunity at home in front of our fans, parents and supporters.”

Playing a team that is expected to win easily can be a challenge, especially for a Bates club that is talented in its own right and expects to win most outings. Cosquer says his team tries to approach the match the same as any other, but the players still know this one isn’t quite the same.

“It’s a different approach,” said Greenberg, of Malvern, Pa.. “I don’t go in there thinking I’m going to lose. I go in thinking I’m going to have a good time, and I’m going to bust my ass and see what result I can get. I’ve gotten close a few times. I’ve taken a few games off their players. It’s nice to see I can be competitive with them.”

The Bates players have a great friendly rivalry with the Bantams. Most of them are friends and keep in touch during the year. They enjoy playing against each other. With Trinity being favored to win, it allows the Bobcats to not have to worry about losing or being embarrassed. If anything, it allows them to have fun and play relaxed, which often helps produce the best results.

“The best part is that when you play against them, you’re playing with no pressure at all,” said Mahan, of Kalamazoo, Michigan. “No one is expecting you to win. It gives you a chance to really go out there and do the best that you can.”

When Burns won his match last year, he said he wasn’t going in thinking he was going to win. He was prepared mentally to give it his all, and that’s what happened. It was a long, grueling challenging match, but a very special one.

“It was a big moment for me,” said Burns. “When I got on the court, it wasn’t like I was looking to win. I wanted to win, but in that situation, you don’t have anything to lose.”

That’s how the Bobcats approach Sunday, and Burns has already proven what could be possible.

“It actually shows they’re not invincible,” said Burns, from Greenwich, Conn. “They’re strong, but they can be beaten. I think we surprised them. Even the matches we didn’t win were very close. I don’t think they’re going to take us for granted this year.”

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