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United We Stand, Divided We Conquer

Savoir-Faire at Courtside

By Michael K. Savit

Libby Pierpont took a deep breath. "I think," she mused, "you should take advantage of what you have to offer." What Pierpont has to offer are the groundstrokes and backhands to rate as the number-two player on what is expected to be the best women's tennis team in these parts since, well, ever.

Indeed, as they showed in yesterday afternoon's 8-1, season-opening thrashing of Boston College, this spring's recquetwomen have their games together. But that's not all. Collectively, they've got their act together. This is one together group, baby.

The fact that such harmony exists in a sport so individualistic by nature is a compliment to sophomore captain Katie Ditzler, freshman coach Peter Felske and in particular, the Harvard-Radcliffe admissions office. Last spring, the latter served and volleyed acceptance letters to four women--Pierpont, Martha Roberts, Meg Meyer and Leslie Miller--who know their way around a tennis court. The rest will soon be history.

"The fact that we're all young really helps," says Ditzler, the youngest player on last year's team, the second oldest this time around. Explains Pierpont, "The women's sports program here is growing, and we'll be able to grow with it."

The use of "we" is certainly apt. The lone upperclassman in the top six is junior Sally Roberts, Martha's older sister. Yes, it really is one big happy family.

"Last year," adds Ditzler, who hails from a California tennis family (her father has held national rankings), "the players went down to the court, played their matches, and boom, that was it. Everyone just went out for herself. This year, due to the freshmen, there's so much more unity."

In achieving the latter, an undefeated fall slate certainly helped. So did a successful (4-2) spring trip, where the players got to know each other that little bit better. But so, too, did the infusion of new blood in the coaching ranks, where Felske replaced well-intentioned but perhaps too uncritical Corey Wynn.

The word that Felske says is conditioning. Having worked with former Australian greats Harry Hopman, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle, who he says have influenced him greatly, Felske places greater emphasis on conditioning than he does technique. He has introduced exercising drills to the team, stressed endurance, speed and flexibility and in an effort to foster togetherness, works with three or four players on the court at a time rather than have each individual hit by herself for an hour on the ball machine.

"You can't get around the fact," Felske admits, "that tennis is an individual sport, and it's difficult to get people together to think as a team. You don't make friends with challenge matches. But I'm trying to make this a more cohesive unit. We've been able to travel together, which was a great opportunity."

While this might very well be the best women's tennis team in Harvard/Radcliffe history, maybe even the best in New England this spring, it has yet to reach Princeton's class. "In fact," says Pierpont, a Darien, Conn. product, "I chose Harvard over Princeton because I knew I had no shot at making Princeton's tennis team." As a result, Harvard has the opportunity to take advantage of what Pierpont--and her talented classmates--have to offer. Maybe we should all take a deep breath.

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