SEASON RECAP: Depleted Crimson No Match for Ivy’s Best

After returning just one starter, Harvard struggles to compete in the league

The Harvard women’s tennis team’s spring season began with only a single returning player, but ended with a satisfying win over Dartmouth and a tantalizing promise of a bright future for the program.

While this year’s team did not enjoy the success of last year’s Ivy League championship squad, the Crimson overcame a depleted roster and a plethora of injuries to end the season on a high note.

“We had a fantastic season and I feel like the team did a great job,” said senior captain Preethi Mukundan, the only carryover from last year’s team. “Obviously, we had a lot of challenges, but everything came together amazingly well. We have a lot of ability to do some great things next year.”

This winter, the team found itself so short-handed it needed to find extra players merely to field a complete squad. After open tryouts among the club team players, senior Julia Forgie, junior Vilsa Curto, who is also an associate photography editor, and sophomore Rachel Gottlieb made the varsity team. These three joined freshmen Elizabeth Brook and Lena Litvak, and sophomore Beier Ko, who did not play last year.

Early results were less than promising, as the team lost, 5-2, to No. 19 Kentucky. The loss was symptomatic of Harvard’s early-season struggles. The young Crimson squad faced one of its most difficult schedules in years, playing 11 of 21 matches against nationally-ranked opponents.

The team did better against the Ivy League, reflecting both easier competition and the team’s increased maturity. The Harvard side compiled a 2-5 record in the conference.

Doubles play proved a consistent strength of this year’s squad. With Ko and Litvak playing primarily in the top doubles slot and Mukundan and Brook mostly in the second spot, the Crimson’s first and second doubles teams compiled identical 14-6 records over the course of the season.

The doubles efforts were recognized in the postseason All-Ivy selections. The Mukundan and Brook duo and the pairing of Litvak and Forgie were both named to the All-Ivy Second Team for doubles.

The strength at doubles reflected the squad’s inexperience and its future promise. Generally, the team that wins the doubles point will generally win the match, as it only needs to capture only three of six singles matches. However, the Harvard squad defied this standard, capturing 12 doubles points in 20 matches while actually winning only four.

Doubles play provided one particularly special season highlight. Missing Ko, the Crimson was only able to field two doubles teams against Princeton. To capture the doubles point, the team had to win both matches, which it did, as Litvak and Forgie won, 8-5, while Mukundan and Brook won 8-4.

In the team’s final match against Dartmouth, the Crimson finally put it all together. Mukundan and Brook won their doubles match, as did Ko and Gottlieb. Harvard then dominated the singles, with wins from Ko, Litvak, Mukundan, and Forgie for an overall 5-2 victory.

While Harvard did not qualify for the NCAA Championship, Ko qualified for the individual championship, losing in the first round.

With only Mukundan graduating and three recruits coming in, next year promises improvement. In addition, longtime head coach Gordon Graham will be leaving after 17 seasons.

“The three recruits are going to be coming into a team that’s really become a family,” Mukundan said. “I’m very happy and almost jealous of those new players coming in. They’re going to have a wonderful chance to build something new.”

—Staff writer Tyler D. Sipprelle can be reached at sipprell@fas.harvard.edu.

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