Ned Weld Spring Break - Santa Barbara - The Siren's Call
There is nothing like the rush of finishing that last midterm or completing the final sentence of a paper before embarking on spring break. Once you have boarded that plane bound for Los Angles, unencumbered by heavy book bags and assignments, there is levity and lift-off. Once again the Men's team has migrated westward to our home away from home in Montecito, California and the Knowlwood Club (a.k.a. Beren Center West)
At home at Harvard last Thursday night before the break, the Crimson netters downed a pesky St. John's team that had given trouble to several other Ivy contenders. After losing the doubles point, the starting six singles asserted themselves and posted a 5-2 win. Notable performances were turned in at second singles by Ashwin Kumar who took care of business despite being dogged by the flu as well as Sasha Ermakov and Dan Nguyen who regained some momentum by hitting their way through a losing streak to post convincing wins at third and fourth positions respectively. Armed with a team win, we boarded an American Airlines plane for spring break on Friday night.
The Harvard tennis team has been coming to Santa Barbara since 1995, my senior year. The connection was formed when the Harvard team played in a tournament here on spring break hosted by Coach Patton, who was at the time the head coach of UC Irvine. Once the eight-team tournament disbanded as Coach Patton moved to Boise State, Coach Fish and the former tournament host decided to keep the connection to the area alive by gathering a few teams for matches. Now, the week has morphed into four individual duel matches in eight days in what we have termed a grand slam schedule - usually playing every other day.
Undoubtedly the allure of the trip is beautiful Santa Barbara and our long-time friends in the area. Montecito is the closest thing to paradise - where the placid Pacific Ocean and green mountains bracket this lush and temperate land. In this Eden, one begins to feel the only way to return home again is to strap oneself to the car like Odysseus passing the island of the sirens. But certainly the best part of the trip are the innumerable friends and host families that we have meet through the years who have opened up their homes and their hearts to us. Alums still can recall with great pleasure their host families from trips in the past. This year we have reconnected with several Friends of Harvard Tennis in the area. Greg Tebbe '87 and his wife Daphne '87 (they were both Winthrop House) and three children have relocated to Montecito after years in NYC. They are housing three freshmen and will be throwing a team dinner on Thursday evening. Frank Foster '85 (and HBS '95) and his wife Tiffany (also of HBS) have generous housed a large portion of the team at their beach house where a few players, including the Irishman Gareth Doran, wake up and rides the waves before breakfast. The trip began with a bang with a welcome dinner on Saturday night hosted by the Fosters. Of course, the centerpiece of our trip is the relationship with the Knowlwood Club and its treasure of tennis and life wisdom, tennis pro Jerry Hatchett, who has held court there for 35 years.
On the first day of practice, Coach Fish had to remind the team of their mission and get down to the business of winning matches. On Sunday, the team drove a couple of hours up the coastline to Cal-Poly in San Lois Obispo to play the Mustangs who had downed the Big Green of Dartmouth 5-2 the day before. Fortunately, the wind died down enough to let our boys swing away with confidence in only our second day outdoors. We wrestled the doubles point away with three convincing wins for the first time in many weeks. At second doubles, a feisty Dan Nguyen and a consistent Michael Hayes posted an 8-3 win and the freshman duo of Omodele-Lucien and Chijoff-Evans locked in their returns and wrested the momentum back to take the third match. The top pairing of Kumar and Ermakov have continued their winning ways by downing Cal-Poly by two breaks of serve.
In singles, the team continued to put in strong and focused efforts. The Crimson won five of six singles including a third set tiebreaker victory by freshman Aba Omodele-Lucien who came up with the goods when it counted, including several big one-handed backhand winners that followed some big arching kick serves that bounce so high one would think he was playing with a superball. Freshman Will Guzick was another noteworthy performance at the back of the line-up anchoring the Crimson in the six spot. He drilled innumerable passing shots on his way to a quick win.
The team's performance was bolstered by the cheering of Cam Parker's family, especially his niece, who's encouragements of "go Ashwin" or "go Aba" were enough to bring home the wins (Cam is a super sophomore). Mr. Evans, Alexei's father, was also supporting the east coast boys and spreading the good cheer. The team would also like to thank Hank Holmes '57 for driving down from Northern Cal with his wife just to watch us play. Hank was part of the "depth" of the squad (to use his own words) back in the 50's but he was at the head of the line-up in our books. We hope to see Hank again in the years to come as well as his hitting partner and former Harvard star Dale Junta (a storied Harvard player for his role in upsetting perhaps the greatest Yale team, which featured later-to-be Davis Cuppers Donald Dell and Gene Scott.
After a scenic drive home through the wine country of Santa Ynez valley on our way home, the team geared up for the Gaucho's of Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, the hometown boys proved to be a spoiler in our March Madness bracket. After losing the doubles point - falling at second and third doubles - we had the tall order of winning four singles with our Captain - "Colonel" Clayton out of the line-up with an infected blister. Freshman Alexei Chijoff-Evans evened the match at one apiece by finding his commanding form at the six slot. Things would only get worse before the Crimson mounted a charge. Aba Omodele-Lucien couldn't find the game to mount a comeback and fell quickly at number four. 2-1 Gauchos. Normally dependable senior Ashwin Kumar was bedeviled by old ghosts at the top position and dropped in straight sets. 3-1 Gauchos. Then things started to turn around. Will Guzick at number five hit passing shot after passing shot to bring the Crimson within striking distance. Ermakov, playing up at the second position, garnered a 3-0 advantage in the third set and Dan Nguyen had saved two set points in his match at number three. There was more than a ray of hope. As Nguyen neared victory with a steady diet of big backhands and a strong serving performance, Ermakov lost the reins and fell 6-4 in the third set. Captain Dan would go on to win in straight sets in two tie-breakers to cap a gusty but disappointing 4-3 loss.
The team hopes to rebound against a highly ranked San Diego State team on Friday.
Off to the beach on our day off…
Head Coach of Men's Tennis
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65 N. Harvard St.
Boston, MA 02163-1012
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