If there had ever been a time for the Harvard men's tennis team to win the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships (ECAC's), last weekend would have been it.
The stage for a big upset had been set perfectly. Princeton's number-one player last year, Jay Lapidus, ranked third in the country last spring, had the good sense to turn pro.
Two other Tiger stalwarts, Jim Zimmerman and Steve Meister, had graduated. In the meantime. Harvard lost no one, save expendable third doubles player Greg Kirsch. The rest of the team had returned to Cambridge intact.
But the Crimson came up a little short, finishing second to the younger Princeton squad, 35-32. Old Dominion (yeah, the school with the good women's basketball team), finished third while Ivy League rivals Yale, Brown. Columbia and Penn would up fifth, sixth, seventh, and ninth, respectively.
In case anyone cares, Dartmouth cruised to a 15th-place finish while Cornell hit too many balls into the net on the way to 16th-place. MIT finished next to last, in the 19th position.
As Howard Sands, Pompan, and company made the trip through the oil refineries of Northern New Jersey and pulled into the idyllic, middle class setting of Princeton, they talked about victory, they wanted it, and they felt it.
They didn't get it, and they won't get another chance until next May.
Harvard can, perhaps, take solace in the fact that they won as many individual titles as their preppie colleagues from the South. Neither team won any singles championships, and each copped its only bracket win in doubles.
The only Harvard title came in the "A" doubles, in which Mike Turner and Sands played two flawless sets and went straight through Princeton's Leif Shiras and John Low, 6-2, 6-1.
In the rest of the classifications, Crimson entrants more often than not got knocked off by the eventual champion. Old Dominion's Bill Clark, who copped the "A" singles title yesterday afternoon, wasted Pompan in the quarter-finals, 6-3, 6-0. Sands, the Crimson's number one, got zapped by Penn's Murray Robinson, 6-3, 6-2, also in the quarters.
John Stiepel, Yale's eventual "B" winner, got by Crimson number three Warren Grossman in those disastrous quarters, 6-4, 6-2. Adam Beren, the Crimson's number four, had already been forced out of the running, losing to Brown's John Hare, 6-1, 7-5, in the third round.
In "C" division singles, Navy's Bailey Taff had to sail through a Crimson sea to pull out a championship. He defeated Bob Horne, 6-2, 6-4, in the semi-finals, and then came from way behind to nip Mike Terner in the finals, 7-5, 1-6, 7-6. Terner fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the final tiebreaker, only to lose the final point on a clutch overhead smash by the Midshipman.
Besides the "A" doubles, the only final round reached by Crimson players was the "C" bracket duos, in which Princeton's Flip Ruben and Steve Feinberg whipped Beren and Harvard Freshman Rob Wheeler.
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The ECACs are important for three reasons. First, the match act as a surrogate Ivy League Championship, since the Conference sponsors no such battle in the spring. In fact, it is the only championship in which Ali the Ivy schools regularly play. So last weekend's results confirm what everyone already knew: Princeton is the 1980 Ivy League Champion.
Perhaps more important, the meet previews the sping season. This year, it suggested that the Ivies will be be closer than ever. Princeton lost half of its team, and in dual matches, that will hurt. The experienced Crimson team is a year older. It should be an interesting spring.
Finally, the ECACs determine the Eastern representative to the National Indoor Team Championships. So, for the umpteenth year in a row, Princeton will be the Eastern offering.
But just wait 'till next year.