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After only two days of outside practice, the Harvard tennis team faces the biggest hurdle of the entire season today when it takes on Columbia on the windswept clay courts of Morningside Heights. On Saturday the Crimson will face Princeton, the league's defending champions, and by winning both matches it would be virtually assured of its first EITA title since 1969.
Last year Harvard secured a tie for second with Navy behind undefeated Princeton when it upset the Lions, 5-4. Both teams have improved significantly since last year, and in order to win again, the Crimson will have to overcome Columbia's superior depth.
Harvard co-captain Dave Fish is out indefinitely, with tendonitis, and sophomore Ken Lindner has a pinched nerve that could sideline him for several days. The loss of Lindner at second singles and first doubles would be a severe blow to Harvard's chances for an upset.
Columbia coach George Seewagon claims that on a given day his number six player can beat his first singles player, and, as of yesterday, he refused to name a starting line-up. It is likely that one or two of Columbia's top players will be moved to the bottom of the ladder for the match, and Harvard will need a strong performance from its first three singles players. However, the Crimson holds a definite advantage in doubles.
Major Factor Absence
A major factor in last year's Harvard victory was the absence of Bobby Odaiz, Columbia's best performer last season. Odaiz has now quit the team permanently, but with the addition of freshmen Henry Bunis and Rick Fagel at the top of the singles ladder, he won't be missed.
Senior Doug Grunther, who played at number one against Harvard last year, is back, and juniors Bobby Binns. Mark Massey and Kirk Moritz give Columbia the best depth in the league.
Seewagon, a former All-American at Rice and the national amateur champion in 1969, is in his third year of coaching at Columbia, and he is determined to make his team one of the best in the country.
"We are trying to build a program like the one they have down at Rice," Seewagon said, "and starting next year, we will be playing a schedule comparable to theirs. And since we also play Ivy League matches, we will actually be doing a good deal more."
"Next year we should get Vitus Gerulaitis, the best junior in the country to come here, and that will establish Columbia as one of the top tennis colleges in the country," Seewagon said.
So far this season Columbia has compiled an 8-1 record playing mostly against Southern teams, but Seewagon feels that the Ivy League will provide his team with stiff competition.
"It used to be that a couple of teams like Harvard and Princeton had one or two outstanding players, but now there are four or five teams with strength all the way down the line. It's very unlikely that the winner of the league will go undefeated like last year," Seewagon said.
Assuming that Lindner is able to play, Harvard has the fire power at the top three positions to hold off Columbia for another year, but the bad court conditions will give the Lions a distinct advantage. Last year Tom Loring stole victory from the jaws of defeat by upsetting Ace Baumgold at number six, but with the sudden switch from the hard surface of the Palmer-Dixon indoor courts to soggy clay, he will have trouble holding his own at number four.
By traditional Ivy standards Harvard has exceptional strength and experience at five and six with Randy Barnett and co-captain Chris Nielson, but both will be decided underdogs, and the even with Lindner healthy, the Crimson will probably need a sweep in doubles to win the match.
Masterson and Lindner played together last year, and they are probably the best doubles team in the league. Two years ago Nielson was EITA doubles champion along with Bill Washauer, and he is paired with freshman John Inguard to the Crimson a very aggressive second team.
Loring and Barnett also played together last year, and they will be strong at third doubles even against Columbia.
Harvard coach Jack Barnaby was unperturbed by the disadvantage his team faced due to the dismal weather. "Rain makes the grass grow, and the ducks really like it," he said. "And if the sun shines tomorrow we'll give Columbia a really good fight," he added.
Today's match may very well be the last time that Harvard will be able to offer Columbia serious competition. If the Lions come even close to fulfilling coach Seewagon's ambitions for the next few years, the EITA will be reduced to a battle for second place.
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