For the second weekend in a row, the result was hanging in the balance when the Harvard women’s tennis team entered its final two matches of the day. On Sunday afternoon at the Murr Center, Amy He fell in three sets to North Texas sophomore Alexis Thoma, but freshman Annika Ringblom picked up a 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 victory to give Harvard its third straight win in a 4-3 thriller over the Mean Green.
He and Thoma finished right as Ringblom was wrapping up her second set tiebreaker, which sent the match to a decisive third set. In a day that would end up featuring three three-set singles matches, the No. 49 Crimson (4-1 overall, 0-0 Ivy) and No. 70 North Texas (2-6 overall, 0-0 Conference USA) looked evenly matched, alternating points and games the entire day.
With each member of both teams gathered around Court 3 at the Murr Center, Sunday’s match would come down to the Harvard first-year and Mean Green junior Anastasiya Shestakova.
“With Annika, what happened was not surprising because at practice, she’s super-positive, super-loud, super-spirited, and she’s a tough player, so the entire team had full confidence that she could pull it out,” captain Sylvia Li said. “To see her pull this out as a freshman—I’m just really happy she got to experience it.”
After losing the first set, Ringblom went into a second set tiebreaker after both players had won six games. The California native was able to break to take the tiebreaker, 7-5. The final set, which concluded almost five hours after the day’s action began, was the type of battle the two teams had been playing all day.
Shestakova took the first game while Ringblom took the next two. Shestakova won the fourth game and the two held serve for the next three. Ringblom was able to break to put her one game away from victory. The North Texas junior would not go away, breaking Ringblom to make it 5-4. However, the freshman took care of business when she needed to, winning the last game and the set, 6-4, to give the Crimson a 4-3 victory.
“I do well when a lot of people are cheering me on and yelling at me and I love fist pumping to the crowd and to the people so that was really exciting,” Ringblom said. “I definitely felt [the pressure] going into the last game at 5-4, but up until then, it was just really exciting to play.”
To put Ringblom in a position to clinch the victory, Harvard picked up victories from freshman Nikki Kallenberg, sophomore Monica Lin, and freshman Ellen Jang-Milsten.
The Crimson lost the doubles point after the Mean Green picked up two victories out of the three matches that were started.
“I thought overall we competed really well in singles today,” coach Traci Green said. “Our hats go off to North Texas—they came out on fire. We had a little bit of a slow start on the doubles, but our singles depth came through for us today. The match could have gone either way, and we’re very fortunate to get away with the win today.”
The team’s singles depth was key in Sunday’s victory, as injuries forced Green to tweak the Crimson’s usual line-up. Ringblom injured her foot at the end of the second set, but Harvard was able to weather the struggle.
“None of our matches have been really easy, but we’ve been making sure to do just enough to get the win,” Li said. “That gives us a lot of confidence going [forward]. Having had all these wins, we have the confidence [of] knowing that if it comes really close, we can pull it out.”
Ringblom seemed to always have an answer for the more experienced Shestakova. Her fist pump after the final point energized her teammates and the Crimson fans in attendance.
“Annika’s a very special player,” Green said. “She’s always positive and never gives up. That’s all you can ask for from a freshman and from a teammate. We’re very proud of her and what she did today.”
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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