Sometimes its lonely at the top, but not this year for the Harvard men's tennis team.
The Crimson travels to Princeton, N.J., today with a chance to win its third straight Ivy League title. Harvard (16-5 overall, 6-0 Ivy) has handily defeated its Ivy League rivals all year. But as the Crimson enters the last match of the regular season, it is surprisingly not along at the top of the ancient eight.
Princeton (15-4 overall, 6-0 Ivy) has managed to keep pace with the Crimson this season, and the Tigers will be the strongest squad that Harvard has faced in nearly two months. The Tigers are also undefeated against Ivy League rivals, but there can be no ties today. Someone must walk away as the 1991 Ivy League champions.
Two years ago, the Crimson's top-ranked trio of Mike Zimmerman, Mike Shyjan, and Albert Chang were only freshmen when Harvard traveled to Lenz Tennis Center and trounced Princeton, 6-0, in the season finale to win the Ivies. And last year, Harvard won the big match again, 8-1, in its own Beren Tennis Center.
"The Princeton team of the past was not as strong as this year's team," Harvard's doubles player Jonathan Cardi said. "This year they are a good team down low as well as up high. Princeton has better players across the board, so everyone will be challenged."
There is much reason to believe that Harvard, the 13th-ranked team in the country, will prevail over its Ivy rival. In East Region action earlier this year, the Crimson defeated powerhouse West Virginia, 7-2, while the Tigers lost to the Mountaineers, 5-4.
The Crimson is led by the EITA's number-one singles player Mike Zimmerman. Zimmerman has been undefeated in EITA and Ivy League competition this season. The Crimson's first-doubles tandem of Zimmerman and Shyjan, ranked 12th in the country, also has a spotless EITA and Ivy record.
Chang, playing in the number-two position today, is the 30th-ranked player in the nation. Harvard Coach Dave Fish has not hesitated in the past to rest Zimmerman with Chang around to fill the top singles spot.
No singles or doubles match will be a cinch, but even if Zimmerman, Chang, and number-three singles Shyjan don't notch victories in their respective competitions, Harvard is loaded with depth.
Freshman Ian Williams, a 6-ft. 9-in contender for EITA Rookie of the Year, is unarguably the tallest--and perhaps the best--number-four singles players in the nation. And the Crimson's number-two doubles pair of Chang and Brent LaTanzi would play number one on any other team in the Ivy League.
The Tiger's number-one singles player, Greg Hartch, is capable of giving Zimmerman some trouble, but Hartch must catch Zimmerman on an off day to beat him.
"About half the people on our team have beaten Princeton's number-one singles player," Cardi said.
Harvard (6-0) vs. Princeton (6-0)
#1) Michael Zimmerman (H) v. Greg Hartch (P)