For the last four years, the Harvard women's tennis team has been knocking on the second round door at the NCAA tournament.
This year, the Crimson is determined to knock the door down. It would be quite an accomplishment: Harvard has not won more than a single individual match in four trips to the NCAAs.
But for the first time in five years, the netwomen actually have a chance to do that and more.
The Crimson (20-7) will play Trinity (10-11), the 13th seeded team in the tournament, at noon today at UCLA.
"It should be a fierce match," Harvard Coach Ed Krass said. "I think most of the matches will go three sets. The team is anticipating and expecting a really close match."
"We haven't played Harvard this year," Trinity Coach Emily Forster said. "I think the match-ups from one to three are pretty good. I don't know anything about their players from four to six."
The NCAA has increased the field to 20 teams this year, and squads seeded from 13 to 20 will play each other in the first round. Harvard has consistently opened with Florida or Stanford--the top ranked teams in the country--for each of the past four years.
"I'm so excited to be playing Trinity," netwoman Kathy Mulvehal said. "It's exciting to be going down there with the possibility of winning a match."
"Last year we were excited about winning just one individual match," Mulvehal added. "We hope we can get more this year"
In its first round NCAA match against the Gators last year, the Crimson dropped an 8-1 decision.
Harvard will have to adjust to playing singles first, followed by doubles. In the East, most of the matches start with doubles first.
"I feel that this year we've built our foundation around our doubles teams," Krass said. "If it's a 3-3 score after singles, I'll welcome that situation with open arms. We can put some pressure on them. But, of course, their doubles teams are pretty good, too."
"We're so psyched to be playing Trinity," sophomore Christina Dragomirescu said. "It's a real good opportunity for us. If we can win a match or two, we will finally get some national respect that we deserve."
"I think we may like [the singles first, doubles second format] for this particular match," Mulvehal added. "It'll be a really close match. The majority of us would prefer to be playing doubles--if the match was tied at 4-4."
For the sixth straight year, the Crimson dominated the East, and captured its sixth straight Ivy title. But national respect still has eluded Harvard.
The little national exposure Harvard received came because of its performance in the National Indoor tournament. In the tournament, the squad knocked off Wisconsin, 5-4, but dropped its next match to Georgia, the tournament's seventh seed.
"We would like to go down there and win a match to prove to them that we deserved to be there," Mulvehal said.
"I think we can do it, I think we can beat them," Harvard Co-Captain Cyndy Austrian said. "Our doubles teams have always been our strongest point."
Austrian is making her fourth straight appearance in the tourney.
During the National Indoor doubles tournament, Co-Captain Kristin Bland and Jamie Henikoff dropped a three-set decision to Trinity's Ann Hulbert and Jane Holden, the nation's fourth ranked team.
"We've improved since we last played them," Henikoff said. "If we play well, I think we can beat them."
In the other two doubles matches, the edge has to go to the Crimson. Amy DeLone and Dragomirescu have been solid all year, while Austrian and Mulvehal would be playing one at almost any other school.
The tournament will also bring to a close Austrian's fine four-year career at Harvard. The senior dropped only two Ivy individual matches during her four-year career. Harvard also won four Ivy championships and posted a 28-0 mark during her stint.
"It's a great feeling knowing that I've been on a top national team every year," Austrian said. "This year, we have the chance to win. I think we can beat them."
"I do know that Harvard has always been ranked in the top 25. To do that, they have to be pretty good. It will probably come down to doubles," Forster said.
And that's exactly what Harvard wants.
If the Crimson wins its first round match, the squad will face fourth-seeded UCLA, a team it has already played this year.
During spring break, the Crimson dropped a 7-2 decision to the Bruins. Those two individual victories showed the Crimson that it can compete with the top-ranked teams in the nation.