Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Midwinter’s Nightmare: Harvard’s Journey to the Midwest

A Midwinter's Nightmare: Harvard's Journey to the Midwest

The season is all about the stories we can tell.  The bottom line of our midwest swing - we got whupped, fair and square.  But the stories are great.  Andrew Rueb is, again, the scribe who penned the following.  To those of you who gave me undeserved credit for a great write-up after the ECAC championships, the praise goes to Andrew!    DF
Looking back on last weekend's trip to Ann Arbor and Evanston with the benefit of a week of hindsight, there were omens and signs portending to our demise long before the matches were decided between the lines of the court.  But, like Oedipus, we could not "read" them until it was too late. 

Before embarking on last Thursday evening to Detroit (February 19th), we left our captain, Michael Kalfayan, to tend his very sick girlfriend who was in the hospital with viral meningitis (she has recovered thankfully!).  As we boarded the plane, Sasha Ermakov, our # 3 singles player, announced that he was coming down with a funky flu.  By the time of his arrival in Ann Arbor, the thermometer read 103 degrees.  Combined with a stiff neck (a classic symptom of meningitis), Sasha had reason to be sequestered for the weekend.  And then there were 7 only players available (in the style of Agatha Christie's
And Then There was None ). 

"Rafter", getting low for his volleys...I mean petting.  Note the ground before the snow!

The spirits of the boys were buoyed by our fabulous housing in the area organized by Shiyang Lee (Tim Wu's mom) who fed, mothered and kept our troops in a good mood.  We also adopted their dog, "Rafter," as the official dog of HMT (Harvard Men's Tennis).  See the photo.  But it was an adage by a wise sage (my dad), who drove up to Ann Arbor from Cleveland with my mom to watch the matches, which captured Dave's attention and become the motto of the trip.  When Dave expressed his worries that the team might get too fat-headed after last weekends' miraculous win, my dad added, "humility is only one match away."  Oh, how painfully true. 

On the way to the match, Coach Fish's van was stopped by a very upset older woman, without shoes, who ran across oncoming traffic, seemingly appearing out of a graveyard on the opposite the side of the road, waving her arms wildly and talking in a language that none of the passengers understood.  Dave first thought that the woman would come up to the driver's window and was getting ready to talk to her, but when she went over to the passenger's window, he proceeded to roll down the passenger window, where up until that moment Michael Hayes had felt quite secure!  Shortly thereafter, as the woman babbled quite incomprehensibly inches away from Michael's face, a younger woman came up to the van to tell all that the woman was her mother, and was suffering from schizophrenia and had run away from their house.  Needless to say, so contaminated are we by the media, that the incident conjured up memories of a host of horror movies.  Are you starting to get the drift about the omens….?

And the good news just kept coming…  During the first few games of the doubles point against the top 20 ranked Michigan, Alistair Felton, one of the heroes of last weekend, went down with a strained hip-flexor that sidelined him for the weekend.  And then there were 6 players left.  Things were starting to get interesting…  Davis Mangham was so sick with a stomach bug that he lay face first on the floor between the doubles and singles events while Coach Fish addressed the team.  Pumped with pepto-bismal and adrenalin, he still wanted to play in order not to forfeit a match.  Chris Clayton, our top singles and doubles player, who had literally not played a set in two months after his shoulder injury, (and whom we were hoping we could ease back into match play) was also forced to take the field.  Michigan captured the doubles point (not without some suspense) and garnered singles wins at three through six positions. Our troops fought admirably – Davis almost won his first set – but couldn't muster a point for the Crimson.  Alexei Chijoff-Evans was able wrest a singles victory at number 2, Aba Omodele-Lucien lost in a third set match tiebreaker at five while "Colonel" Clayton won at the top spot against his nationally-ranked Michigan foe.  Truly a veteran performance for the record books…. 

With a classic tennis dinner at the Olive Garden with our hosts the Wus and Hubbards,  we were well-nourished and ready to redeem ourselves against Northwestern, as yet unranked, but narrow loser to #25 Notre Dame three days before. On our drive on Saturday to Evanston for our Sunday match, we ran into Midwestern snow squalls that slowed our trip considerably.  With a southern route plotted to avoid the "lake effect" of the snow and an earlier departure time (we had the hubris to think we could avoid the Fates), and despite our caution, one of our minivans was involved in a 60 car pile-up on I-94.  No one was injured, thank God!  My van was rear-ended.  We lost our bumper and our trunk was dented as the car behind us couldn't stop on the icy over-pass.  Dave's van was safe but the cars around us were not so fortunate.  Dave tended to a woman nearby who was trapped in her car and couldn't feel her legs until the ambulances came and were able to get her out on a backboard.  The highway was closed for several hours.  All the cars that could be driven were turned around and told to drive back to the nearest exit.  Once back on the road, with nerves a bit frayed, it took us 9 hours to get to Evanston (normally a 4.5 hour drive). 

At a roadside convenient store, Chris Clayton slipped on some ice on his way in and got up light-headed.  Hard charger that he is, despite feeling light-headed, he hardly missed a step, at least not until he fainted in the middle of the store, knocking down several displays!  He was fine, but we again wondered what else might happen...

We made it without further ado, and gratefully entered the hospitable home of another Friend of Harvard Tennis, Andrea Mainelli, a classmate of Debbie Goldfine, who housed and fed the tired troops.  We enjoyed catching up with Paul Torricelli, Northwestern's coach for many years and good friend, who housed us coaches.  With a good night's sleep and some food in our bellies, we thought that surely, things would get better the next day… 

On Sunday morning, Sasha's flu had not gotten any better (he is back healthy again some four days later…), Felton's leg had left him unable to play, and Davis was having trouble breathing without bringing on a hacking cough…  But the show went on.  Robertson McAnulty steeped into the breach once more.  Playing in his second varsity match ever, "Mac" gave his Wildcat opponent a run for his money before pulling a back muscle in the second set.  (I'm not making this stuff up!) Northwestern's confidence was high, and they took care of us in short order.  All credit goes to Northwestern for giving us no chance to right our listing ship.  The scoreboard was filled with 1's and 2's on our side of the set scores, finishing 7-0 in Northwestern's favor.  It was a  disappointing dose of reality that we had to swallow.  We were grateful when our plane touched down safely at Logan. 

Fortunately, redemption is only one match away…  The Crimson takes on Marquette University at the Murr next Sunday at 2pm. 

David Fish
Scott Mead '77 Family Head Coach for Harvard Men's Tennis
Harvard University Dept. of Athletics
Murr Center
65 N. Harvard St.
Boston, MA 02163-1012
Phone: 617.495.2695/Fax: 617.495.2700
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