With its sights set on an Ivy League Championship, the Harvard men’s tennis team opens the season this weekend at the annual Chowder Fest held at the Beren Tennis Center.
Led by co-captains Ali Felton and Davis Mangham, and with senior Jon Pearlman ranked No. 78 nationally—the highest in the Ivy League—the squad will host three-time defending NCAA Champion USC, along with Texas A&M and Michigan, in a three-day event.
“It’s a great way to start,” assistant coach Andrew Rueb said. “[We get] a chance to see the best in action, to see where we are, and what we need to work on. We’re just looking forward to a chance to test our mettle and see where we stand. It’s a real honor to get in some great teams and battle with the best.”
“We’re looking to build for the rest of the season,” Mangham said. “It’s not necessarily about winning the most matches, but working our way into the season and playing good tennis.”
With these goals in mind, the Crimson is also looking to improve on its record from last year. Harvard finished the 2010-11 season with a 15-5 overall record, 5-5 in Ivy League play, tying Dartmouth for third place in the Ancient Eight behind Princeton and league champion Cornell.
This season, having only lost one starter, former captain Aba Omodele-Lucien, the Crimson is vying for its 27th Ivy League Championship—its first since 2008.
“We’re trying to see if we can establish a team work ethic, a real sort of scrappiness on our team in terms of how we play ... and how we fight out on the court,” Rueb said. “[If] you put that foundation in and then teach guys to the right kind of points … and keep a professional attitude, then the good results will come.”
“We have a really strong team, and [the Ivy League Championship] should be within our grasp,” Mangham said. “We have a lot of good players, and I think some guys can go far, both individually in the postseason and as a team.”
Coming off a year in which many matches in the Ivy League were decided by a 4-3 margin, Harvard will have to fend off these same competitors on its quest for a championship.
“In the Ivies, everyone is gunning for us and we’re gunning for them,” Rueb said. “There’s much more parity in the league … there’s no juggernaut and there are no weak teams. It’s really going to be decided in those seven matches during the season.”
The team this year consists of a balanced mix of underclassman and seasoned veterans. Five new freshmen have joined the squad, while a strong core of six upperclassmen return to lead the team this year.
“This is a very strong freshman class ... that is going to help us push everyone to work a little harder,” Rueb said. “They are very composed and are a touch bunch. They’re helping us move in the right direction for sure.”
“I think it’s the best [depth] that I’ve ever seen in my three years here,” Mangham added.
While on court preparation is important for the big matches, the squad has also spent a lot of time off the court.
“This year we’ve had a bigger focus on fitness,” Mangham noted. “We’ve increased the amount of time we’ve spent in Palmer-Dixon. That fitness base has changed the team for the better.”
Harvard will play five other tournaments this fall in preparation for the spring season, when dual matches begin, traveling to Oklahoma, New York, and Virginia.
“The fall season … is an individual season, there are no team results,” Rueb said. “If used properly, it’s great training ground to get guys better for the season, and results are really not important as long as guys are developing their games and moving in the right direction. That’s what the fall is for, that’s what the great coaches have used it for … and that’s our model here.”
A highlight of the tournament will be the doubles shootout from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, but there should be great tennis played throughout the entire Chowder Fest, especially with Harvard taking on competition from around the nation.
“If people want to see what top tennis looks like, this is the weekend,” Rueb said. “It’s going to be a great chance to see college tennis at its best. I encourage people to come out and watch.”