Women's tennis at Harvard moves into the big leagues this spring.
The young squad heads south over Spring break to prepare for what promises to be a grueling, eight-week initiation to top-flight tennis on the East coast.
The netwomen finished the fall season with a 1-1 record in dual matches, but their real success came in the intercollegiate championships. Harvard topped over 27 schools to take the Massachusetts State Championships, tied with Tufts for the Greater Boston Championship, and took third in the New Englands.
Betsy Richmondleads a talented freshman class in bringing the Crimson into the top level of women's intercollegiate tennis. The five-foot native of Newton, Mass., made the 1978 fall circuit her private domain with singles titles in the New England, Greater Boston and Massachusetts State championships.
Bearing the Blame
Richmond and classmate Abby Meiselman--in large part--shoulder the responsibility (or blame) for coach Peter Felske's decision to pit Harvard against the most talented group of opponents the team has ever faced.
The netwomen meet the first of their nationally prominent rivals on the Spring trip. The southern swing matches do not count for the team's record, but Felske feels the rugged competition, against a host of top-ranked schools, will prime his squad for the rigors ahead. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke and the University of Virginia could all crack the nation's Top 20 this year.
"They're all going to provide us with excellent competition. I think the southern trip is the toughest trip we've ever been on. We need this period of spending time outdoors to get the girls used to playing in the elements again," Felske said last week.
And the squad will have to get used to it in a hurry because it travels to Penn-- "the one we're really setting our sights on," as Felske says--for its first official contest.
Last year Harvard lost to the Quakers, 6-3; but Felske feels the addition of the freshmen and the maturing of the team's "veterans" (there is only one senior on the squad) could make the difference.
Richmond, though she did not lose a match this fall, may facecompetition for the number one spot from sophomore Martha Roberts, who led the Crimson last year. At number three, sophomore Meg Meyer returns; and freshman Abby Meiselman, last year's number seven junior in Florida, probably will play in the fourth position. Felske has a wide variety of options to fill the last singles space and the doubles slots. Junior captain Katie Ditzler, freshman Kristen Mertz, sophomore Leslie Miller, senior Sally Roberts and sophomore Libby Pierpont all are in the running.
Turning the Keys
"We should establish a final order after the southern trip," Felske says.
Whatever order he chooses faces severe challenges early in the season.
The official spring season commences April 7 at Penn, in a test that could indicate if the team will prosper among the Ivy League elite. The next day, Harvard faces Princeton, a squad that Felske admits might be beyond the Crimson's range. Another key test comes at Dartmouth, April 16, where the netwomen take on the team that won the New Englands. A week later, it's Yale at the Palmer-Dixon courts, another match bound to stretch the team beyond its limits.
"We decided to move up in class this year," Meg Meyer says, "and we might be able to pull it off."
If not in '79, this team, dominated by freshmen and sophomores, has time to do just that.