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"Just win. baby," Los Angeles Raiders' owner Al Davis always says.
It wasn't pretty, but the seventhranked Harvard men's tennis team overcame midterm blues, jetlag, the outdoors and erratic individual play to rip the U.C.-Irvine tourney championship from the jaws of ninth-ranked U.C.-Irvine in Davis backyard.
Harvard (9-4) looked down and out of the competition as the home team raced to a 3-0 advantage in singles play.
But, "[Harvard's] guys characterize themselves as a team that doesn't quit until it's over," Coach Dave Fish declared.
The Crimson fought back fiercely from the deep ditch of defeat. Looking into the precipice, the Crimson's Albert Chang bumped off the Anteaters' Mike Roberts at fourth singles to shatter a personal three-game slide and notch the Crimson's first point.
Captain Mark Leschly said to me 'you picked a great time to join us again.'" Chang said. "[The win] made up for all the losses. It never fails to amaze me how well we can play. It's a good feeling that we all pulled together at the right time."
The Crimson's Jon "Ba" Cardi and Derek Brown then followed suit to knot the match, 3-3. The 200 UC-Irvine rowdies in attendance were determined to swing the championship to the host's advantage.
But Harvard had an intangible edge that insured the Crimson win.
"We have a running superstition. I pass out two jelly beans to each player before each match." Chang said. "Mike Shyjan. for example, relies on his net and services game. So, he takes a yellow `tennis control pill' for his volley and a blue one for his serves. Since we've adhered to this practice, We haven't lost a match."
And U.C.-Irvine was no exception. Harvard's doubles tandems of Roger Berry/Leschly and Chang/Cardi prevailed to clinch the tourney's championship.
The Crimson defeated Auburn, 5-3, in the semifinals and Utah, 6-3, in quarterfinal action to reach the tourney finale. The championship highlighted Harvard's depth.
"No one person has been doing all the work," Fish said. "Each doubles team performance has been critical at different times. Sometimes it's Shyjan, other times Zimmerman, Chang or Cardi. When we're doing well, each guy generates the energy that inspires the rest of the team."
Unfortunately for the Crimson, Harvard faled in its final test of the spring break. Fifth-raked Pepperdine soured the Crimson's California conclusion with a 5-3 victory.
"The energy level dropped after U.C.-Irvine," Shyjan said. "It didn't seem that we were up for the [Pepperdine] match."
Then again, maybe it was because Chang forgot to pass out the magical jelly beans before the match against the Waves.
All the same, the seventh-rated Crimson remain the team to beat in the Ivies and the East.
"Everyone's going to be gunning for us," Zimmerman said. "West Virginia is our major nemesis, but we could always lose to an Ivy League school. Yale, for instance, gets up for us. Yale's hockey is never that good, but they beat us last year even when we won the NCAA's."
THE NOTEBOOK: The New York Times ran an article in yesterday's issue, recognizing the Crimson's high national ranking. Harvard has not appeared in the top 10 sice 1961.
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