After struggling against Dartmouth in a scrimmage this winter, the Crimson (4-6, 2-5 Ivy) defeated the Big Green (8-11, 0-7 Ivy) by a 5-2 score Wednesday night in a match that began outside and finished in the Murr Center due to rain.
Harvard captured the doubles point easily, then powered through the singles. Sophomores Beier Ko and Preethi Mukundan, freshman Lena Litvak, and senior Julia Forgie all won in straight sets to clinch the match with a margin for error.
Such a result would have been unthinkable four months ago.
For a variety of reasons, Harvard began the season with only four varsity players: Mukundan, Ko, Litvak, and freshman Lizzie Brook. To fill out the roster, the Crimson held tryouts for the players of the women’s club team. Forgie, junior Vilsa Curto, and sophomore Rachel Gottlieb all moved up to varsity.
Early returns on the team’s new players were not promising agasinst No.19 Kentucky. Litvak, Curto, Forgie, and Gottlieb won a cumulative total of three games in their single matches, while Brook sat out with a sprained ankle. Only Ko managed to eke out a three set victory in the top singles spot.
Fast-forward four months. Still at the top singles spot, No. 64 Ko demolished Dartmouth’s Megan Zebroski 6-1, 6-2 and teamed up with Gottlieb for an 8-2 win at third doubles.
But the difference came elsewhere. Litvak swept through Kerry Snow 6-2, 6-4, while Forgie defeated Jesse Adler 7-6(4), 6-4 for her second consecutive win in the fourth singles’ slot. The two fell to Dartmouth’s top doubles team 8-4.
Brook and Curto had rougher times in singles, losing 6-3, 7-6(4) and 7-6(2), 6-2, respectively. Nevertheless, the two have been vital the Crimson all season, starting nearly every match.
The star of the day for Harvard was undoubtedly its captain, Mukundan. She played second doubles with Brook, winning 8-4 to clinch the doubles point for the Crimson. Mukundan then annihilated Dartmouth’s Mary Beth Winingham in singles 6-1, 6-2 for her third straight win since a painful third set tiebreak loss against Yale.
Mukundan displayed her clinical precision and extensive repertoire of shots throughout the match. In the second set, Winingham hit a high bouncing second serve to Mukundan’s backhand. Mukundan’s sharply angled slice backhand return hit the intersection of the service line and the singles sideline, forcing Winingham hopelessly out of position and giving her no choice other than to come to net. Mukundan’s next shot, a topspin winner that hit the same vertex of lines on the opposite side of the court, left the gallery breathless and applauding.
Having ended her Crimson career with a win, the four-year starter Mukundan reflected on what her fellow senior, Forgie, contributed in her single year with the team.
“I’m very proud of how far she’s come and how hard she’s been working.” Mukundan said. “She and [Gottlieb and Curto] faced so much adversity, but she did a great job facilitating their integration onto the team.”
Coach Gordon Graham attributed much of the team’s improvement to his captain and the rest to his team’s dedication to hard work.
“It was obviously a team effort to have everyone come together, but it probably wouldn’t have happened without a leader,” he said. “Preethi is just an amazing person in terms of her positive energy, her positive attitude, her caring and concern for other people. She’s got them in spades. She’s done a very good job captaining through easily the most tumultuous year I’ve ever seen.”
However, next year will bring change for the Crimson. Mukundan and Forgie will leave the program. So will Graham, after seventeen years at Harvard.
Hopefully for Harvard, overcoming the hardships of this year will prepare the team for challenges of the next.
—Staff writer Tyler D. Sipprelle can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.