In a pulsating contest, Harvard (4-3) fell to a 5-2 defeat against East Tennessee State (9-3), surrendering its perfect home record in the process. The Buccaneers’ victory extends its winning streak to four games, although the Crimson made them work for it.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Harvard head coach Andrew Rueb. “We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be to beat a very, very good team.”
With Harvard and East Tennessee State ranked 48th and 56th in the nation, respectively, a close match was anticipated. However, the Buccaneers had sunk the Crimson’s Ivy League rivals Brown 4-3 at Provindence two days previously, while Harvard’s last action was a double header against Binghampton and Boston College on Feb 15. Despite this discrepancy in game sharpness, the Crimson kept the contest alive right to the end of the action.
“Overall, the energy was good,” said junior co-captain Chris Clayton. “It came down to the last few games in the third set, and we just got a little unlucky.”
The Buccaneers took the incentive from the outset, knocking the wind out of Harvard’s sails in the doubles. At the No. 3 spot, Clayton and sophomore Michael Hayes slumped to an 8-3 loss against the East Tennessee State partnership of Lisandro Picardo and Daniel Isaza.
The Crimson proceeded to concede the double point as the No. 2 paring of freshman Aba Omodele-Lucien and co-captain Dan Nguyen suffered an 8-5 defeat at the hands of Enrique Olivares and Sebastian Serrano. However, Harvard claimed a consolation through the No. 1 combination of senior Ashwin Kumar and junior Sasha Ermakov, the duo continuing its impressive form in doubles with a narrow 8-5 win.
Heading into the singles with a one point deficit to overturn, the Crimson faced difficult challenges on all courts. In a competitive contest, only three Harvard players won their first set as the Buccaneers increased the pressure.
“East Tennessee State competed very, very well,” Rueb said. “They came out guns blazing in the singles, and they got on top of us early.”
The Crimson’s task became harder as the Buccaneers turned on the style. East Tennessee State took a commanding two point lead as No. 3 Ermakov lost in straight sets, 4-6, 2-6 to Predrag Burmazovic, only for No. 2 Clayton to respond with a 6-1, 6-4 win. However, the Crimson respite was brief: in an absorbing No. 1 contest, the Buccaneers’ Olivares beat Kumar 1-6, 6-3, 3-6—the Crimson player losing his first singles match this season.
“In a couple of places, there were times when we held back a little,” Rueb said. “In this kind of high level tennis, you can’t wait for things to happen.”
With East Tennessee State holding a 3-1 lead, Harvard had to win all three remaining contests to make a comeback with all three going to a third set. At No. 6, Crimson hopes were kindled by Alexei Chijoff-Evans, the freshman recording his third varsity victory in a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 win.
“In the third set, he [Chijoff-Evans] just kept going for the win, even when the pressure was on,” Rueb said.
Unfortunately for Harvard, the Buccaneers swept to victory in the remaining matches. At No. 4, Nguyen lost 2-6, 6-4, 3-6 to Picardo, while at No. 5, Omodele-Lucien fell to a 6-2, 4-6, 4-6 loss against Oscar Posada.
“It’s a hard loss, but we have to use it as a springboard,” Rueb said.
With East Tennessee State undefeated against teams outside the top 25 this season and Harvard defending a perfect home record, something had to give in this contest. Unfortunately for the Crimson, it was the latter.