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The Harvard men’s tennis team knew it faced a tall order when Notre Dame rolled into town this weekend for the first round of NCAA tournament.
The No. 13 Irish (17-6) were heading into its 11th straight NCAA tournament, and five of its six losses this season had come against teams ranked in the top twenty.
But playing at home in the Beren Tennis Center, where the No. 47 Crimson (14-12) had a five-year unbeaten streak until this season and was playing in front of a boisterous crowd who had won Harvard tennis t-shirts in a give-away between doubles and singles matches, Harvard liked its chances of pulling off an upset.
“Our team has a great spirit. and we knew if we kept our composure throughout the match, we could win,” said co-captain Anthony Barker.
But in the end, experience would prevail, as Notre Dame defeated the Crimson 4-0 Saturday afternoon.
The match was closer than the final score indicates; play was suspended after the Irish won its third singles match to give it the fourth point needed for the win.
Each of the remaining three matches, No. 1 through No. 3 singles, was in the third set when play was suspended.
The match did not begin well for the Crimson, as it lost the two of the three doubles matches, and Notre Dame took the all-important doubles point.
Notre Dame juniors Javier Taborga and Aaron Talarico, ranked 19th in the country, defeated Harvard’s No. 1 doubles team of freshman George Turner and Barker, 8-1.
But Harvard would even the doubles score at one apiece when freshman Mark Riddell, and junior William Lee won 8-4 at No. 2 doubles.
The deciding match was in the hands of junior Dalibor Snyder and freshman Chris Chiou. After falling behind on an early break, Snyder and Chiou rallied to pull within two games, down 6-4. But the pair could not break back, and ultimately fell, 8-5.
The Crimson now needed to capture four of the six singles matches to win the match.
“The doubles point is important, but we’ve won matches before without winning it,” Barker said.
Singles play began rough for the Crimson as well, as it dropped the first set in four of its six matches.
Lee, playing at No. 1 singles, and sophomore Oli Choo, playing at No. 3 singles, each won their first set, 6-4.
At No. 6 singles, Riddell dropped the first set 2-6 and fell 3-6 in the second to Notre Dame senior Matt Daly.
As a sophomore, Daly beat Harvard’s 48-ranked Kunj Majmudar at No. 3 singles in NCAA first round play.
“It shows you the amazing depth they have on their team,” said Coach Dave Fish.
Barker, playing at No. 4 singles, lost his first set 3-6 but was playing well and tied at 3-3 in the second set. But Talarico maintained his poise and closed out the set with three straight games.
Talarico’s win put the Irish up 3-0 in the match.
Notre Dame’s fourth and final point would come at No. 5 singles, where Notre Dame sophomore Brian Ferrell defeated Turner 6-2, 6-2 to seal the victory.
The three matches that were suspended after Notre Dame notched its fourth point however were very competitive.
At No. 2 singles, Cliff Nguyen lost his first set, 4-6, but rallied to take the second, 6-2, and had dropped the first game in the third before the match was stopped.
Up 4-2 in the second set, Lee dropped four straight games to lose the second, 4-6, and was down, 2-3, in the third when play was suspended.
Choo dropped his second set 2-6 and was heading into the third set when time was called.
“We played really well in the No. 1 through 3 spots,” Fish said. “We were basically one point shy of really threatening them.”
Notre Dame’s experience was a factor in the victory. Three Irish players played against Harvard in the 1999 NCAA tournament while none of the current Harvard players competed in that match.
But with four freshmen in the lineup Saturday, Harvard’s future looks promising.
“It was an absolute pleasure to play with these guys and it’s going to be a lot of fun to come back and see them the next few years,” Barker said. “They’re going to be really good.”
“This was a great experience for our guys, especially to be playing at home,” Fish said.
Nonetheless, it was still a difficult way for the Crimson to end the season.
“Any loss is always tough, but I’m still a little shocked that the season is over,” Barker said.
Hofstra’s season was also ended Saturday, as it fell to No. 16 Washington in the other semifinal match.
In the finals, which were held at Beren at noon on Sunday, Washington defeated Notre Dame, 4-1, and will advance to the round of 16 on May 19.
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