Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Results from the exciting Ned Weld Spring Trip! Harvard hits #16 in the country!

The Ned Weld Spring Break Trip 2012 – An Instant Classic

The team returned bleary eyed to campus on Monday morning after a red eye flight from Long Beach, CA. The luggage was a bit heavier with the hardware from the Mission Valley Hilton Spring Classic tucked into our bags. It was a weekend for the record books and will be soon airing on ESPN Instant Classic (just kidding). According to Tuesday's ITA Rankings, Harvard is #16, in the country, our best ranking in 6-7 years.

This was our third trip in four years to La Jolla for spring break. The first trip to La Jolla dates back to the days of Howard Sands and Don Pompan (both So Cal boys) who convinced Fish that the tennis was much better out west than anything the old Jack Barnaby-era "Southern" trip had to offer. There is a very old photo of the whole team at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club back in the early '80s during the first trip with Howard, Don, Alex Seaver, Jim Curley, Tory Kiam, Benny Sims, and co. We've come full circle, with La Jolla once again a favored destination. Our players stay with wonderful families in the area which makes for enthusiastic (and larger!) crowds and fun memories (not to mention how much of a help it is in keeping our budget manageable). In the early part of the week, courtesy of Ret. Rear Admiral Garry White, a friend of Alex Seaver, the team toured the Naval Base in Coronado (see photos) where the boys learned about team work, dedication, honesty and accountability by seeing the inside workings of a helicopter unit. The guys even had a chance to try a Black Hawk flight simulator. Several played almost managed "a landing" on an aircraft carrier!

The tournament featured some strong teams including Oklahoma State, Purdue, UC Irvine, Marquette, San Diego State and University of San Diego. The #27 Crimson were the first seed, although USD shot ahead to #16 in the rankings after the draw after notching wins over #9 Texas and Rice. We had trained hard but competed not at all in the weeks leading up to the California trip, so we had to scrape off a little rust, but by mid-week, the team was ready to battle the "Anteaters" of UC Irvine in the first round.

The Crimson struck first capturing the doubles point with strong performances by our #1 duo of Alistair Felton and Casey MacMaster. They are now #35 in the country and hitting their stride. With huge serves and expert positioning at the net, they are a potent combination. The doubles team of Andy and Denis Nguyen faltered at #2. The doubles point was secured by Christo Schultz and Jon Pearlman, who won 8-5 at #3. In singles, freshman Shaun Chaudhuri was first off the court at #5. Shaun is now 13-0 in the spring season and a true nightmare to play. He makes no unforced errors and just yanks opponents all over the court with his precision-guided groundstrokes. Think Jimmy Connors (or Kunj Majmudar) in terms of how flat he hits the ball. Next up was Henry Steer, who polished off his opponent at #6. Now up 3-0, we were hoping to garner our forth and clinching point. But Irvine was not willing to give up so quickly. Pearlman was in the third set against #75 Fabian Matthews, Denis Nguyen was down 5-2 in the second set at #2 and Christo Shultz had let a 4-1, two-break lead slip away to lose the second set. Alex Steinroeder fell at #4 in three sets, but not until he had climbed back from 5-0 down in the final frame to 5-4. Homegrown Denis Nguyen from Southern California was able to clinch the match with his family and coaches in attendance (a special shout-out to Coach Tontz and Coach Eric Michaud). Jon Pearlman would come back to win 6-3 in the third as well and Schultz would right the ship at #3 to give the Crimson a 6-1 win.

Now for the semifinals against the Aztecs of San Diego State…

With the weekend forecast predicting a washout, the coaches agreed to play the semis and finals on Friday. The #45 Aztecs would prove to be a stern test. Hoping to speed up the day, we started with singles, but since USD had only 8 courts, each match had to start with 1-4, with #5 and #6 to follow. Right from the start it appeared to be a dogfight that would need the doubles to decide it. SDSU proved to have a very potent line-up and found ways to dent our arsenal by taking out Christo Shultz at #3 – his first loss of the spring season. Denis Nguyen would go on to win at #2 and Chaudhuri would continue his winning ways at #4 to put the Crimson up 2-1. But things would get tougher. Jon Pearlman battled back from a 1-5 third set deficit to force a tiebreak, but lost when his opponent regained his nerve in the tiebreak. Jon's match last 3 ½ hours! Henry Steer wore down his opponent with crushing forehands at #6 while Alex Steinroeder fell to an inspired Aztec at #5. With the score tied at 3-3, it was onto doubles where things got really interesting. Felton and MacMaster played flawless doubles again at #1 winning 8-4 giving us two chances to win the match. Denis and Andy Nguyen gave up an early lead, but regained their balance to force a tiebreak. The crafty Aztec duo was able to escape with the win after denying three Harvard match points. The match was now in the hands of veteran senior Jon Pearlman and Christo Schultz to save the day. It looked a lot like "Casey at the bat" again, as Pearlman and Schultz fell behind 5-2 in the tiebreak. They saved match point at 5-6. With a couple of inspired returns and steely nerves, the duo would win 10-8 in the breaker. It was not our best tennis performance but it certainly was gutsy and hard fought win.

After all was said and done, the clock registered five and a half hours for the match. We had only two hours to get some food and then re-load for USD, who had beaten Oklahoma State 4-0 in less than 2 hours! Jon Pearlman had played all morning and his wobbly legs might be an issue going into the afternoon match. And, the Toreros of USD were playing at home. Perhaps this might have led them to underestimate us. In part of the lore of weekend, one of our players overheard several USD players in the bathroom joking and chuckling before the match. "Who are these Harvard guys? Are they going to be doing geometry on the changeovers!?" After the first sets, it was clear that the Crimson was holding nothing back winning two of four. At this point, one of our fans overhead the USD guys saying, "These Harvard kids really can play." By six in the evening, darkness had descended on San Diego and we were playing under the lights. The Toreros would notch the first win at #2 singles as Denis Nguyen would fall to a very capable Nikola Bubnic in straights. But Harvard would rally back. Christo Schultz would put the Crimson on the board with his best performance of the season with a win at #3 in a tight straight sets victory. Once again, chessmaster Shuan Chaudhuri would add another win by downing Visy in straights – giving us a 2-1 lead. Meanwhile, Ironman Jon Pearlman continued to battle at first singles. While Jon would not pull out the win, his physical condition, positive energy and rugged spirit was certainly the inspiration for the evening. All told, he logged 7.5 hours on court.

The crowd might have been split 50-50 with a large Harvard contingent of parents, siblings, alums, and host families. It was a boisterous crowd matching the cheers for the Toreros all night. Mac McAnulty led the charge for Harvard urging his team on with his witty banter. He even hoisted himself up into the branches of a tree to better support his classmate Jon Pearlman. (See photo!) With the match tied at 2-2, it was up to the young frosh Henry Steer and Alex Steinroeder at #5 and #6 respectively. Steer had a crushing performance and won quickly while Steinroeder would go the full three sets against a feisty Irishman on the night before St. Paddy's day – Ciaran Fitzgerald. Alex would get up 4-1 in the third, only to have Fitzgerald claw back with some line cleaning passing shots to even the score. With the match getting tight and our voices hoarse from screaming, it was white-knuckle time. Fortunately, Steinroeder would prove up to the challenge and managed to will his way to a 6-4 victory that would give Harvard the title in San Diego.

It was a magical match to be a part of and something that the Harvard Tennis family in attendance will not soon forget. Many thanks to all the parents and friends of HMT (Bob and Sheila Steer, Doug and Christine Nguyen, Bob and Shalini Chaudhuri, Jack and Connie Tchan, Jeff and Lisa Parker, the Ruebs (Andrew's folks), alums Frank Ripley, Don Pompan '81, Claire Stuart Roth '75, who all played a role in inspiring the guys to victory). Captains Davis Mangham and Alistair Felton deserve a special mention helping to keep guys focused on the business end of the La Jolla trip – keeping the team's eyes on the prize. In Coach Fish's words, this match was one of the great Harvard wins and certainly one of Harvard Tennis finest accomplishments in some years.

Now the task to get back to work without getting a big head. We play BC this Wednesday at 6pm at Murr. Back to work…

Dave Fish
E. Scott Mead Family Head Coach of Men's Tennis
Harvard University Dept of Athletics
Murr Center
65 N. Harvard St.
Boston, MA 02163

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