Harvard-Yale. The very words conjure up an image of monumental athletic confrontations. And when you consider that the outcome of the 1978 Eastern League tennis race may very well hang on today's match at New Haven, and that the Crimson is still doing a slow burn after Yale's shocking 5-4 upset last year, well, you get the picture.
"I don't want to overplay it, or anything," junior Kevin Shaw said after practice yesterday, "but it's more than a rivalry, really. This is the match the team's been gunning for all year."
To understand the significance of today's match, you must step back a year in time. Yale tooled into Cambridge on April 25 of last year, cocky and hoping to knock off Harvard's unbeaten racquetmen, who were looking toward a repeat performance as league title-holder.
The Crimson led, 4-3, as the match went down to the last two doubles contests. With the third doubles locked up in a neck-and-neck third set, the second doubles match entered a third-set tiebreacker.
Kevin Shaw and Scott Walker went up, 3-2, on Jack Cobetto and Brad Dressler, needing to take but two of the last four points to nail down the win. The Elis had other plans, as they swiped three straight points to tie team match at 4-all, then brought home the bacon by winning at number three.
For Harvard, the loss killed the year.
Not only has last year's Palmer Dixon shocker left a sour taste in Crimson mouths, but aggressive Yale coach Steve Griggs has irritated just a few folks with his violations of unwritten rules about running a high-powered tennis program in the Ivy League.
"Quite frankly," one league coach, who asked to remain unidentified, said earlier this year, "I don't like what he's doing there, and neither do a lot of people around the league."
Moving back to present realities, Harvard must beat Yale to have any chance to win sole possession of the league crown and an NCAA berth. The Elis stand 12-6, 7-1 in the league, after thrashing Dartmouth, 7-2, in New Haven yesterday. Harvard stands 8-3, 4-0 in the league, with three cakewalk matches and the May 9 showdown with 5-0 Princeton remaining after today.
"They're beatable," Harvard coach Dave Fish said of the Elis after yesterday afternoon's light practice session. "Before I thought they were out of our class, and they still could be if they get zoned--but I don't think so.
Even though Harvard is sky-high and optimistic, Yale rates as a favorite in the showdown, and a couple of Harvard injuries have solidified the Elis' favorite status. Crimson captain Todd Lundy will return to the number-one spot to face Yale's Matt Coyle after ten days out of action, but he remains below 100 per cent with injured ribs. Even worse, Harvard's four-player, Scott Walker, sprained an ankle in practice Monday night, and may not even play.
Yale, beaten only by Princeton so far, thinks it can win the match.
"We may not be quite as psyched for it on the whole as we were last year," Yale's number-three player Jack Cobetto said last night, "but we'll be up for it, and we want to win badly."
Despite the unfavorable odds, Harvard is psyched to win the match as well.
"We're going to beat these guys this year," a member of Harvard's team said Monday night with a dead-serious face.
Whether the Crimson can pull it off or not remains to be seen, but if they do, they'll be rockin' in Palmer Dixon.