It's time to get serious for the Harvard men's tennis team.
This weekend marks the beginning of the Eastern Intercolleigate Tennis Association (EITA) season for the Crimson (10-6 overall). The team goes on the road to meet Columbia this afternoon and Pennsylvania tomorrow.
Harvard is currently ranked 18th in the nation by the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Association (ITCA), down from a season-high 11th place in early March. The team's goal is to finish the season in the top ten.
Crimson Coach Dave Fish does not consider either Penn State (9-7 overall, 0-4, EITA) or Columbia (7-2, 3-1) as being a major threat. However, other factors could combine to make this a tough weekend for the team.
"We practice on hard courts at home, but we will be playing Columbia on clay," Fish said. "Most of my players have little or no experience on clay. At best, they've played a little bit on clay over the summer."
As if the slow clay wasn't enough of a test today, the Crimson must make a quick turn around and meet the Quakers on some of the fastest hard courts in the league tomorrow.
"We have to play on very fast courts at Pennsylvania," Fish said. "That will be a hard transition for my players."
The focus for the team at this point is the NCAA championships, to be held in May. The Crimson has to finish the season ranked first in the east by the ITCA in order to be guaranteed a place in that competition.
Princeton, Dartmouth and West Virginia are expected to pose the only serious challenges to the team in the east. The Crimson will meet all three later in the season.
Harvard ended the 1990-91 season with a 9-0 EITA record, 17-5 overall, which was good enough for the win in the east and a 15th place finish in the nation. Its highest ranking of the season was twelfth.
This year, as the only member of the EITA ranked in the top 25 nationally, Harvard appears to be in good shape to wrap up the east.
Unfortunately, rankings have not had much bearing on Harvard's performance in recent weeks.
The team's spring season got off to a very shaky start with losses to 20th ranked Rice, 7th ranked North Carolina and 15th ranked Miami in March, resulting in the team's ranking plummeting from eleventh to eighteenth.
"On paper, we have one of the strongest teams in the country," senior Derek Brown said, "but some-how, we haven't done quite as well as we might have. We haven't reached our potential."
Senior Albert Chang presented a more optimistic outlook towards the remainder of the season.
"We certainly didn't do very well [in March]," Chang said, "but what's happened is over. We still have the rest of the season to look forward to, and that's what counts."