After finishing off its spring break trip to California with two straight losses, the Harvard women’s tennis team got back on track Sunday afternoon. The Crimson took down No. 24 Houston (15-4) in a nailbiter of a match, notching a 4-3 victory. It was the team’s fourth win over a ranked team this season.
“Coming in, we knew they were a higher ranked opponent, so we just thought, we don’t really have anything to lose,” freshman Spencer Liang said. “We didn’t want to feel like we did back in California after having a couple bad losses, so we stepped up our game to close out the non-conference season and to have some momentum going into Ivy season.”
In a match that was close from the beginning, it was a dramatic doubles point victory that gave the Crimson the edge over Houston. After sophomores Amanda Lin and Amy He won, 8-4, at third doubles to put Harvard in the lead, it fell to the freshmen tandem of Liang and June Lee at second doubles to put the point away for the Crimson.
“We started off pretty aggressive, but they were also playing really well and crossing a lot, so it was pretty tight the whole match,” Lee said. “We just figured out some strategic things. For example, one of the girls had a weird lefty serve, so we both decided to play back and then just work our way into the net together. Us moving in together worked really well.”
Liang and Lee went back and forth with the Cougars’ Maria Cardenas and Tina Rupert on court two, eventually battling to a 7-7 tie. It was Harvard, however, that came up with the win in the tiebreak, as the two outlasted Cardenas and Rupert to win 5-0 and take the match, 8-7, to give Harvard the early advantage.
“We switched up the teams for this match, so this was a very good starting match for us,” Liang said. “Our opponents were very good, but June and I are very close and we just helped pump each other up, and even though it was very close we kept it together and kept our cool. I was really proud of us for pulling it out.”
The Crimson struggled following its early doubles win, as Houston stuck to its strength and rallied in the singles matches. The Cougars’ Despoina Vogasari took an easy 6-2, 6-0 victory from Liang at the first spot to tie the match up, 1-1, and her teammate Elena Kordolaimi followed up with a victory of her own at second singles. The junior’s 6-2, 7-6 win over Harvard freshman Monica Lin was Lin’s first loss in dual action at the second position this season.
Houston made it a clean sweep of the top three positions, as Rupert took down Lee in their second meeting at third singles. Rupert came out on top of a tight contest, as she clawed out a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
“[Rupert] was really good, she had a lot of different weapons and the first set, I didn’t really figure out what her weaknesses were,” Lee said. “In the second and third sets, I tried to work my way through, and since she was a lefty I was just hitting more to her backhand, and pushing her back with high balls and moving in on the short balls. I fought pretty hard, and even though I lost it was still a good match.”
After Monica Lin’s loss at second singles gave Houston a 2-1 lead overall, the Crimson battled back with wins in matches lower on the singles ladder. He easily dispatched her opponent at fourth singles, and her doubles partner Amanda Lin followed up with a win of her own at sixth singles to put Harvard up, 3-2, with two matches remaining. Senior captain Hannah Morrill then clinched the match for the Crimson in the fifth spot, coming back after a first set loss to win the match two sets to one.
With the win over Houston giving the Crimson another victory heading into their Ivy League matches, the team is confident in its ability to be an important player in the conference this season.
“We want to do the same thing that we’re doing now [in our coming matches],” Lee said. “We want to stay focused and have that same belief with every school we play, that it doesn’t matter what ranking they are. Numbers don’t really mean anything, and we just want to have the same high intensity for every match coming up.”
—Staff writer Glynis K. Healey can be reached at email@example.com.