March 21, 2012

Squash Skills Pay Off for Trinity's Johnson

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Quick footwork, making quick decisions in tight spaces and a little bit of guile are key qualities in successful squash players. Trinity senior goalie Peter Johnson, a prep squash standout, is using his background in that sport to help the Bantams in the crease.
© Jonathan Lester Photgraphy

When it comes to the sport of squash, Trinity College is the collegiate epicenter. Heading into this past winter, the Bantams had put together 13 consecutive undefeated seasons and the same number of national championship. The sport is as near to a religion on the Hartford, Conn., campus as you'll find.

So when Peter Johnson was approached by the Trinity squash coach after a friendly matchup against the No. 7 player on the Bantams over fall break, he was flattered.

"He saw me playing and asked why I didn't come out for the team," said Johnson of the brief encounter.

Johnson admits to toying with the idea. At the Taft (Conn.) School, he was the captain and No. 2 player on the fifth-ranked prep team in the country. He has a pretty good pedigree in the sport. For two reasons, Johnson demurred. The first was because he'd still be around No. 15 on Trinity's ladder (only positions one through nine are counted in a match).

The second was due to Johnson's station as one of the best lacrosse goalies in the country.

Even though his flirtation with being a two-sport athlete was a short one, squash is still very much a part of Johnson's prowess between the pipes.

"His ability on the squash court definitely plays into his goaltending," said Trinity's second-year head coach Mike Higgins. "He reacts very quickly in very tight spaces, and that's what I mean when I say what he lacks in pure technique he makes up for in athletic moves. He is getting across the cage and being an athlete."

For those unfamiliar with squash, it is game played with a racquet and a ball in squared room, and is often thought to be similar to racquetball. It is in the same way checkers is similar to chess. The large, live ball and testosterone-fueled swings of racquetball are replaced with positioning, quickness and guile that are mandated by a less spacious racquet head and smaller, deadened ball.

"With squash and playing goalie, I feel like the reactions and the quickness in tight spaces are almost identical," said Johnson. "I credit my improvements in lacrosse to what I do on the squash court. I still get out there as much as I can."

Johnson also credits his development into the first-team all-NESCAC goalie last year was the arrival of Higgins. During his sophomore year, Johnson had a tumultuous season in which he felt it was difficult to get on the same page with the coaching staff. He would get pulled on occasion, and he admits to not always handling it well.

"I definitely matured a lot from my sophomore to my junior year because I realized how much responsibility was on me," Johnson said. "I couldn't be in my own head. I had to have confidence in myself and know my abilities. Last year, from the start, I just kind of worked my [butt] off every single day, knowing nothing could be taken for granted."

Like most coaches do when they arrive at a new destination, Higgins opened up competition for all of the positions and no one was guaranteed a spot. The new coach could see that Johnson thrived on the challenge.

"Anyone who is successful at this level is competitive, but he's one of the fiercest competitors and takes a lot of pride in what he does," Higgins said. "From that first scrimmage last year, he was our guy and the confidence just started to blossom. He had a motivation to be the best."

Johnson posted a 62.0 save percentage and 7.94 goals against average in 2011, helping the Bantams amass a 12-4 record – the best season in Trinity lacrosse history. As the Bantams start this season, Johnson plans on continuing to use his squash acumen, just like he did in the fall.

"I still get out there as much as I can," Johnson said. "I play Coach Higgins probably twice a week during the offseason. He gets a win off me once in a while because I give him seven points. He'll leave that out if you ask him."

If he can get the same production out of Johnson as he did last year, Higgins would likely admit to anything.

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