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Another year, another Ivy League title for the Harvard men’s tennis team. This season, the Crimson replicated the success of last year’s team by posting a 6-1 conference record en route to the Ancient Eight crown and the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
That the team was forced to rebuild after losing top seniors Jon Pearlman, the No. 1 singles player, and Alistair Felton, who competed in No. 1 doubles, makes this season’s success all the more impressive.
“We started out with a bunch of unknowns,” head coach Dave Fish ’72 said. “If you had said at the beginning of the year that this team would be ranked as high as 16th in the country, we’d say, ‘wow, that’s great.’ If you told us we’d win in the first round of NCAAs and make the final 32, we’d say, ‘let me sign up for that.’”
With co-captain Andy Nguyen and junior co-captain Casey MacMaster as the only upperclassmen in the starting lineup, Harvard’s freshman and sophomore classes stepped up in a big way to keep the team in contention for the Ivy title.
In the absence of Pearlman, sophomore Denis Nguyen moved up to the No. 1 singles position and proved that he could hang with the top players in the country, going 4-3 in Ivy play.
Sophomore Shaun Chaudhuri, who dominated last season in the lower singles spots, was just as good on the second court this season with an 11-5 record in dual play.
“Denis and Shaun gave us some punch at the top that we didn’t have last year,” Fish said.
Sophomore Alex Steinroeder held down the No. 3 spot, and freshmen Nicky Hu and Kelvin Lam competed in both singles and doubles.
Andy Nguyen, who had been injured for much of his first three seasons for the Crimson, took a leap forward by staying healthy and had a 16-4 dual play record.
“Andy went from being injured much of last spring to getting some great wins this season,” Fish said. “But more broadly, our success this season came because everyone made everyone else better. If you take anyone’s improvement out of there, none of this happens.”
The composition of this year’s Ivy League-winning team may have been different than last, but its level of success was still the same.
The team’s hallmark this season was its dominance in doubles. The Crimson captured the doubles point in 19 of its 25 matches, including a stretch of 12 straight in the middle of the season.
Its top tandem of MacMaster and Denis Nguyen went 12-2 in dual play and was ranked as highly as 52nd in the country. Hu and Andy Nguyen went 13-5 at No. 2, and Steinroeder and Lam went 8-2 in dual play on the third court.
“I don’t think we’ve ever won that many doubles points before,” Fish said. “It gives us a huge leg up because we’re probably not better than most teams such that we can win four [of six] singles matches, but we can win three.”
But it was not always smooth sailing for Harvard. The team struggled with injuries early on, leading to losses to unranked teams like Old Dominion on Feb. 3.
“Our first few losses were a result of not having enough guys in the lineup,” Andy Nguyen said. “We lost to some bad teams because we couldn’t field a team. But gradually, we got healthier and showed what we could do.”
Nguyen cited two road victories over Vanderbilt and Northwestern in Evanston, Ill. in early February as crucial for building the team’s confidence.
After those two wins, the team found its rhythm in doubles and ripped off victories in 13 of its next 14 matches.
The Crimson’s success culminated with a win over Dartmouth to clinch the Ancient Eight crown and an NCAA tournament victory over Samford.
Harvard fell to No. 10 Mississippi State in the second round, ending its hopes of reaching the Round of 16.
“One of our goals was to make the Sweet 16,” Chaudhuri said. “We won the doubles point and pushed a really good team to potentially make it but fell just short.”
Entering this season, such lofty goals were emblematic of optimism that was ultimately justified. With just one departing senior, the goal of making an extended run in the NCAA tournament will become an expectation for the dominant squad in the Ivy League.
“We have all the ingredients to have another really fine team next year,” Fish said. “But we’ll have to play with the same kind of guts. We’ll have a target on our backs; we’ll have new freshmen, and guys will have to step up. We’re optimistic, but realistic.”
—Staff writer Justin C. Wong can be reached at email@example.com.
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