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With the score tied at three matches apiece, the fate of the Harvard men’s tennis team lay in the hands of Alex Steinroeder. Fortunately for the Crimson, the freshman pulled through in a come-from-behind victory against Patrick Dacieck of Virginia Tech, winning 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, Saturday afternoon at the Murr Tennis Courts.
Although Steinroeder realized that the team’s result depended on his match, he didn’t let the pressure affect him.
“I think it was 5-5 in the third when I found out that it was coming down to my match,” Steinroeder said. “I was a little nervous, but I was a lot less nervous than I thought I would be.... It must have been the adrenaline or something—I was in the zone.”
It took all Steinroeder had to defeat Dacieck, who took a commanding lead over Steinroeder early on in the match. Steinroeder quickly found himself down, 3-0, in the second set after having dropped the first, and although he fought back to tie the match at one set, he again fell behind in the third.
The freshman’s mentality had to change midway through this final set as he saw his teammates fall, one by one.
“I had thought we were going to win the match based on other courts,” Steinroeder said.
But Steinroeder never gave up, and, through meticulous shot selection, broke serve to earn a 6-5 lead in the third set. That was the only separation Steinroeder would need—the rookie went on to take four consecutive points to capture the game, the set, and the match.
This wasn’t the first time that the freshman from Concord, Mass. has come up big for Harvard so far this season. With this win, Steinroeder kept his perfect record in team matches (5-0) intact and improved his overall record to an impressive 16-5.
Crimson co-captain Alistair Felton showed no surprise with how well Steinroeder played, emphasizing the confidence he has in his teammate.
“Alex started doing well in the fall, but he’s playing even better now,” Felton said. “He’s very hard-working. He always knows what shots he wants to practice and goes out and practices them until he’s happy.”
Felton also credits Steinroeder’s dedication to maintaining his fitness level as a major component of the recent victory.
“He’s always doing whatever he needs to do to take care of his body,” Felton said. “And that really showed in the match against Virginia Tech.... [It] lasted for almost three hours, but he didn’t seem tired at all in the end.”
Although this is Steinroeder’s first collegiate season, the rookie is no stranger to winning. Steinroeder led his high school team to a 68-match win streak and two Massachusetts state titles. He also finished his high school career with two individual state singles titles and a 94-2 overall record in matches.
Previous success has translated at the college level so far, and Steinroeder is quick to credit his teammates for the smooth transition.
“We have really good senior leadership,” Steinroeder said. “[The captains] have done a really good job with our freshman and kind of showed us the way to do things.... Coming into school I was pretty nervous that it would be a whole other level, but ... I’ve found that, if you work hard, [the level is] not impossible.”
Steinroeder also noted the importance of camaraderie on the team, citing how it has helped him in team matches so far.
“The college competition is just a lot [of] fun,” Steinroeder said. “You get to play with the team, [so] you have so many people by your side.”
Steinroeder believes this positive team atmosphere is the reason for the Crimson’s success so far this season and its confidence with respect to the future.
“Everyone’s very happy with how we’ve done the last couple of weeks,” Steinroeder said. “It’s really been a good team effort, and everyone’s contributing which gives us a lot of confidence going forward.”
Felton echoed the freshman’s sentiments.
“[The match against the Hokies] is very important because they’re one of the highest ranked teams we’ll play this year,” Felton said. “It gives us the belief that we can beat pretty much any team out there.”
With Steinroeder on the team, it seems that clutch situations are one less thing that Harvard will need to worry about in the coming matches of the season.
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