In the midst of the Harvard women’s tennis team’s first losing season since 1999, head coach Gordon Graham announced Tuesday that he will be leaving the program this summer after 17 seasons at the helm and nine Ivy League championships.
This year’s squad has already faced a great amount of uncertainty and turmoil, as it came into the spring season with only one player—senior captain Preethi Mukundan—who had previously played a match for the Crimson.
Graham’s announcement came only three days before the young team began the crucial Ivy League schedule, a slate of matches that began with Harvard’s first-ever loss to Cornell.
Asked if his announcement affected the squad in the loss, Graham said, “It might have, who knows. It shouldn’t have. You never know in this sport.”
Tuesday’s announcement shocked freshman Lena Litvak, who Graham recruited to Harvard last year. Returning back to the Yard after practice, Litvak found herself besieged by recruits anxious to know what Graham’s departure meant for the team.
Mukundan hopes the team will absorb the shock and move on.
“We’ve had a lot of things happen this year, and we’ve had a lot of challenges,” she said. “We admire Gordon a lot and we know he has us as our first priority. We’re just going to focus on the present and do the best we can.”
Graham’s years with the Crimson have been paved with victories. In addition to his Ivy League championships, Graham has led Harvard to the NCAA Tournament eight times. The Crimson has finished the season with a losing record only twice in the last 16 years, and Graham is the winningest active coach in the Ivy League. He has coached three All-Americans and four Ivy League players of the year.
“It’s a tough sport to be a coach in. Outside college, everyone has their own coach and everyone expects that individual attention,” Mukundan said. “He’s done a great job giving us that attention. He’s very supportive of his players.”
With such a resume, Graham will undoubtedly have little trouble finding work as a coach, if he so desires.
Asked his plans for next year, Graham said, “I have a few ideas. I’m working on it. I can’t elaborate on that right now. Obviously I’ll still be watching the team here. I’m still very invested in it.”
Graham believes the athletic department has yet to begin the search for a new head coach, but hopes the change will have little impact on the program.
“When you’ve got a good thing going on, you try to bring back as many people as you can,” he said. “I hope all the players will be back.”
—Staff writer Tyler D. Sipprelle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.