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What did you do for Spring Break?
If you're a member of the Harvard men's tennis team, you went to California to work on the tan and take on some potent West Coast squads in the process. Over the past two years, success has been difficult to come by in California, as highly-ranked warmweather teams have traditionally sent the Crimson limping back East.
As senior captain Mitty Arnold suggests, it is respectable to come back "even with a winning record." Harvard, ranked 34th nationally, did just that, gutting out a 3-2 trip, bringing its overall record to 9-5.
First up was U.C. Irvine, considered among the weaker West Coast teams, but which has been a nemesis for the Crimson over the past two years. After capturing the doubles point through the strong play of Arnold and junior All-American Tom Blake, as well as the duo of sophomore Kunj Majmudar and senior co-captain Josh Hausman, Harvard developed into a singles' juggernaut through the straight-set triumphs of Arnold, junior Philip Tseng and freshman John Doran.
Having dispatched of UCI, the Crimson traveled to take on No. 9 Pepperdine. After the nail-biting doubles portion left Harvard emotionally exhausted, starting at a 1-0 deficit, the team was unable to recover against the deep line-up of Pepperdine players.
Despite the continued strong play of Arnold and Tseng, Harvard was clearly outmatched, dropping four straight-setters to fall 5-2. Particularly telling was the result of the anticipated duel between the nation's 19th and 20th ranked players, Blake and Pepperdine's Simon Aspelin, which ended up in a 6-1, 6-4 romp by Aspelin.
Toughened by the loss, however, the Crimson made the trip to the CalSanta Barbara Invitational, where it received a first-round bye faced the 30th-ranked home team in the second round.
In a very close match, Harvard pulled off a great comeback, grinding through singles after dropping doubles. It came down to one match, as Arnold was forced to play someone at No. 3 who normally plays at No. 1 or No. 2. Despite the stacking tactics or Santa Barbara, Arnold came back and triumphed in the third set tiebreaker.
Harvard rode the high wave into a semi-final matchup with the No. 2-ranked team in the nation, Boise State. The Crimson quickly exposed this team's inflated ranking by winning the doubles behind the solid play of Arnold and Blake as well as Tseng and sophomore Mike Passarella. Harvard sent the vanquished back to Idaho with a 4-1 victory.
This brought the Crimson into the final against No. 29-ranked UNLV. Facing an unfamiliar team, playing on an excessive high, and simply out of gas, Harvard's players went down in a valiant 4-2 effort, despite the continued dominance of Blake and Arnold in singles.
The players said the trip was successful because of both increasing confidence in their own ability and a slightly easier schedule than in the past. Passarella also suggested that the Blue-Gray Classic in Alabama two weeks ago was ago was an added experience-builder.
It is clear that the Crimson is on an upswing, as the talented doubles team of Arnold and Blake is beginning to gel and the underclassmen are starting to contribute significantly in the lower three singles spots.
In future matches--primarily the April 12th showdown with leaguerival Columbia at the Palmer-Dixon facility across the river--it is vital that the team gets off to a good start in the doubles, as in four out of the five matches on this California trip the winner of the doubles point proceeded to capture the entire contest.
"[Winning] doubles lets you relax a little," said Blake.
Harvard's record this year is comparable to last year's, but the successful spring break should boost its ranking into the top 30. A dominant league performance may earn the squad a coveted No. 1 Northeast seed, which facilitates the route to a spot in the NCAAs. Look for this newly tanned team to showcase its talents.
"It looks like we're going to be good," Blake said.
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