In the past two seasons, the Harvard men’s tennis team went 6-1 in conference play to capture the Ivy League title, earned an NCAA Tournament berth, and ultimately reached the Round of 32 before falling to a highly-ranked major-conference opponent.
This year, the squad replicated all of those feats except for another Ancient Eight championship, which Columbia captured by virtue of its undefeated conference season.
But though the Crimson fell just shy of winning its third-straight Ivy crown, it still put together another strong conference campaign and proved that it can consistently compete on the national scene.
“[Achieving national success] means a lot,” junior Shaun Chaudhuri said. “Before my class came in, we wanted to make Harvard tennis a national-caliber program. With the help of the upperclassmen and the new additions, we’ve been able to do it.”
Last year, the squad was reliant on its doubles teams to set the tone and give the team an early advantage in matches, but this year’s edition of the Crimson was able to maintain most of its doubles prowess while packing a stronger punch in singles.
“This year, we had some new doubles teams,” Harvard coach Dave Fish ’72 said. “We learned we could gut out a lot of matches without winning the doubles point, and that gave us a different type of confidence.”
Co-captain Casey MacMaster and junior Denis Nguyen had another banner year at No. 1 doubles. The duo was ranked as high as sixth nationally and earned an NCAA doubles bid.
In singles, junior co-captain Alex Steinroeder maintained his consistency in the middle of the lineup, posting a 10-5 mark in dual play, while freshman Sebastian Beltrame’s emergence allowed Chaudhuri to slide down to the third slot, where he went 7-3 in dual matches.
Nguyen also took a leap forward this year in his second go-around in the top slot, finishing 11-4 in dual play. Nguyen, who was ranked as highly as No. 31 in the country, was named to his third straight All-Ivy team and received an at-large selection into the NCAA singles bracket.
The team’s ability to sustain the success of the past season after the departure of Andy Nguyen ’13 while working three freshmen into the lineup makes the squad’s accomplishments all the more impressive.
Andrew Ball was a solid contributor at the bottom of the singles lineup and had a 25-9 overall record for the season. Brian Yeung was a valuable member of both the singles and doubles teams, earning a 9-6 record in singles dual play and partnering with sophomore Nicky Hu—Andy Nguyen’s former partner—to go 21-10 at second doubles.
But the freshman who had the largest impact was Beltrame, who stepped in and worked his way up to the No. 2 singles spot by the end of the season, posting a 9-9 record in dual play. The Windermere, Fla., native also teamed with junior Christo Schultz to lock down the No. 3 doubles spot, and the duo went 12-3 in dual matches.
It was trial by fire for the first-years, as the team commenced its spring season by facing top competition such as Mississippi State and South Carolina.
“We could see the potential of the team, but we also saw the learning curve,” Fish said. “The freshman got to see right away what real national competition looked like.”
Harvard found its rhythm as the spring progressed—until it ran into Columbia. In the first match of its Ivy title defense, Harvard got off to a poor start and was humbled by the Lions, 7-0. Columbia eventually advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament, falling to No. 1 University of Southern California.
But from there, the Crimson blitzed through the rest of the conference season, clinching second place with a 4-1 win over Dartmouth and playing well enough to earn an at-large bid to NCAAs.
Harvard showcased its strength in singles in its first round matchup, when it lost the doubles point to Auburn, but roared back with four efficient victories in singles to advance. The Crimson then pushed No. 2 Oklahoma in doubles in its second round matchup but ultimately fell, 4-0.
“By any standard, this was a very successful season,” Fish said. “But we also left a little bit hungry that we could do more. We’re not satisfied.”
—Staff writer Justin C. Wong can be reached at email@example.com.