In dramatic fashion, the Harvard women’s tennis team came from behind on Saturday to beat Boston College, 4-3, in Chestnut Hill.
With the Crimson trailing 3-2 after five matches, freshman Nikki Kallenberg and captain Sylvia Li propelled their team past the Eagles in the day’s final two contests. Li picked up victories in her singles and doubles matches to give the team its first win over BC in the senior’s four-year tenure.
Though No. 49 Harvard (3-1 overall, 0-0 Ivy League) entered the weekend ranked slightly higher than the No. 6 Eagles (1-3, 0-0 ACC) in the most recent Intercollegiate Tennis Association women’s national team rankings, Crimson coach Traci Green expected a tight battle with BC, especially after the host team’s strong performance last weekend in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“A lot of credit goes to BC,” Green said. “Every time we play them, it’s always a barnburner, and it’s always nice to have a crosstown rivalry. We really fought tooth and nail the entire match. I’m really proud of our squad and the way they came together and believed the whole way.”
After Kallenberg tied the contest at three wins apiece following her victory over sophomore Lexi Borr, it was down to Li’s match with junior Wan-Yi Sweeting. Despite Li’s four years of experience on the team, the senior had played in primarily doubles matches during her four years, with Saturday being only her second start at singles this season.
Her inexperience did not show in the moment her teammates needed her the most. She drew inspiration from Kallenberg, who was finishing her match on a neighboring court.
“I definitely felt a bit of pressure going in, knowing that it would probably come down to my match,” Li said. “It was also great because usually [the pressure] makes you play better…. Nikki really helped at the finish, knowing that she was fighting right next to me.”
For Li, the win was particularly special because it was the first time Harvard had beaten the Eagles during Li’s time in Cambridge. BC carried a three-year winning streak against Harvard into the weekend.
“I’m really proud of the way Sylvia stepped up,” Green said. “She played outstanding in doubles, and she also stepped up quite nicely when we needed her in singles. So it was great to see her, in her senior year, come through, and we’re looking to build off of our team momentum.”
Green went with a different lineup Saturday than the team had used in any of its three prior matches. While sophomore June Lee, Kallenberg, sophomore Monica Lin, and freshman Annika Ringblom remained the top four, Amanda Li shifted up to the number five spot and Sylvia Li played six. The move seemed to pay off down the stretch for Harvard.
In the day’s early matches, Lee lost in straight sets from the top position to Eagles’ senior Jessica Wacnik while Monica and Amanda Lin both fell to their BC counterparts. While Li’s performance ultimately proved to be the clincher for the Crimson, Green was quick to credit Kallenberg, who played in a three-set do or die match, and Ringblom, who picked up a straight set victory for Harvard.
“We’re really proud of the way our freshmen have adjusted to college tennis,” Green said. “It’s very different from junior tennis. But they’re really into team, we’re a very ‘teamy’ team this year. When you compete for each other out there, it makes it so much easier.”
In the doubles match, Li also helped the Crimson secure a point. The freshman duo of Ellen Jang-Milsten and Kallenberg fell, but Monica Lin and Ringblom as well Li and Amanda Lin picked up victories from the second and third doubles spots.
“If someone can’t play or if someone’s not having a good day, we try to stay positive and make sure we’re there for each other because we know we’re able to count on anyone else on the team to pull through,” Lee said.
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at email@example.com.
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