Four years ago, five racquet-wielding high school tennis stars came to the Yard and quickly took hold in the ranks of the Harvard men's tennis team. Today, only three remain with the program, which they've helped build to a nationally ranked powerhouse: Captain Adam Beren, Warren Grossman, and Howard Sands.
The most well-known of the three, Sands has played in the number one spot for most of the four years. Presently ranked in the top 10 nationally, Sands is known by teammates as a player who doesn't like to lose, and seldom does so.
Grossman who plays in the number two spot, is probably the most underrated player of the three. He is seen in Sand's shadow by some, because he has a similar style of play and has been seeded below him most of the four years.
Beren captain of the team both his junior and senior years, last year garnered All-American ranking as Sand's doubles partner.
While all three have contributed to the growth of the program. Beren has the distinction of leaving an indelible mark on Harvard tennis. The new Beren Tennis Center, donated by his father, bears both of their names. And it is Beren who seems to have grown the most through his experience with Harvard tennis.
"I learned a lot about life through tennis," Beren says. "I see it more as a sport, not a life." He adds, "Winning and losing are not that important to me anymore. I've learned that people are still people whether they win or lose a tennis match."
Beren's view of the sport distinguishes him from his fellow leaders, who are best known for their fierce competitive spirit. Although the Wichita, Kan., native spent most of his youth with a tennis racquet in hand, he remembers himself as being "forced into playing, then I grew to like it."
He had heard of Sands on the national circuit on which they both played as young teens, and says that was one of the reasons he chose Harvard after winning the state high school championship his senior year.
Sands grew up in Los Angeles and played at Palisades High School with five other nationally ranked players, and says he always had some aspirations for becoming a pro tennis player. He started in the game at the age of six and a half, and was on the circuit by the age of 10.
"I was always very serious about tennis," Sand says. "I think I was always working towards being pro: it wasn't until this year that I decided I would like to play pro."
Whereas his teammates have thought of turning pro, Grossman took a route rarely touched by members of top ranked tennis squads: he juggled a pre med curriculum and worked tennis around that. On a team with social science concentrators, Grossman says he has gone through several stages in his tennis. His game has fluctuated along with the degree of difficulty he's faced as a Biology major.
Growing up in Great Neck, N. Y., Grossman learned his tennis a the Pro Washington Tennis Academy, where Vitas Gerulaitis and John McEnroe also mastered their games. He played on the Eastern Tennis Association tournament circuit, ranking third in the state his senior year. He never made it to the national circuit, because he spent the summer after his senior year out with mononucleosis.
Grossman only considered Ivy League schools, a selection that suggests a different set of priorities than Sands and Beren, who put more weight on tennis in their college decisions.
The Leverett resident's commitment to academics and his disciplined approach to balancing both is something that team members respect.
Says netman Bruce Diker. "I don't think there are too many people playing at his level who have also gotten into med school."
"I understand that Warren had different priorities than the rest of us." Sands says. "Our relationship has had its ups and downs, but I really respect the fact that he's been able to do well with both I guess this year has been his best year."
Grossman, too, acknowledges the changing relationship he and Sands have had, and adds. "This year I think we've been closer than any other I have the greatest respect for him as a player, and I'm looking forward to playing doubles with him at the NCAA tournament."
Although Beren has captained the team the past two years, it's hard for teammates to separate the trio when trying to decide which of the seniors will be missed most as a leadership model. Says sophomore Dave Beckman, who plays third behind Sands and Grossman. "It's hard to imagine them gone, they provide such stable leadership to the team."
Beckman explains that although they exert a similar influence on the squad, they differ in playing styles. "Howard is a really tough player mentally, while Warren and Adam are fighters--they work hard and fight for everything they get."
Harvard Coach Dave Fish has often remarked that the three are the core of the program's growth, and that each one has grown tremendously as a player. He adds that "Warren has really played tremendously this year, and Howard and Adam have shown great strength in being able to come back from bouts of ill health."
Besides their positions as team leaders, it is the trio's determination that strikes Diker. "They are all superb competitors. All three have been pillars of strength and taken the team to where they are."
Beren says that he thinks they have all been team-oriented players. Having competed in varsity doubles and singles all four years, and holding a two, three, or four spot throughout most of his career. Beren doesn't think that any of them placed that much emphasis on competing with one another. He says he tries to emphasize as team captain, by his example, "that there is more to the game of tennis than just winning."
Beren's attitude is far different from Grossman and Sands, who recognize the sport's emphasis on individual achievement as a major part of the game.
"The pressure is always on you," Grossman says. "You can't make any excuses for yourself." He adds, "through tennis, I've gained an ability to cope in pressure situations."
He says he feels he has learned the most from Sands. He taught me more than any body on the team the importance of concentration, and I've tried to learn from him what it takes to play really good tennis.
And while Fish is usually full of praise for the three senior teammates, they are equally grateful for his coaching. Sands says it's hard to say how much Fish helped his game, while Grossman says he's changed nearly every stroke of his game since becoming a mainstay of Harvard tennis.
Beren feels that though Fish has had major inputs to his game, "he's also helped shape my attitude towards the sport, recognizing what's important in life, and translating it into my tennis."
Although all three acknowledge that getting along together on a team has been a major part of their Harvard experience. Grossman probably has the strongest sense of the ties that bind the trio.
"Adam has always been on of my best friends at Harvard, we've each always had our conflicts," he says, "but we've always pulled it together as a team when we needed to."
With Harvard's tennis triumvirate, the team had always been foremost, and Sands, who says he didn't expect that much when he first came to Harvard, says that team-oriented players are what has elevated the team in the past four years. "If we weren't" he says, "you wouldn't see the likes of Clemson coming to play Harvard today."