The season has just begun, but for the Harvard women’s tennis team, flying the W has proved to be elusive thus far. The Crimson kicked off its spring season with an Illinois road trip against No. 26 Northwestern and DePaul, going 0-2 in the process.
In the weekend’s first match against the Wildcats (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten), Harvard (0-2, 0-0 Ivy League) produced its lone win at the top singles slot in an eventual 6-1 defeat. Sunday’s match at Lakeshore Sports & Fitness Center in Chicago, Ill. proved far more fortuitous for the Crimson, but the Blue Demons (2-0, 0-0 Big East) were able to triumph in the end, 5-2.
“I think these two matches were really good to see where our team is at tennis wise and fitness wise compared to the teams we played,” captain June Lee said. “We competed very hard, and there were definitely moments where the match could have gone either way so that was good to see.”
The only Harvard player to finish without a loss on the weekend, Lee continued to build on her strong play from her final fall season for the Crimson. Facing No. 104 ranked Maddie Lipp of Northwestern, Lee powered her way to an easy victory at the first position, 6-1, 6-3, on Saturday. The senior then brought that momentum into her Sunday match, triumphing again but in less dominating fashion.
Harvard’s other veteran in singles, junior Annika Ringblom, did not fare as well as Lee in her matches at position three. Ringblom played her opponents tightly and earned first-set tie breaks in both contests for her efforts. But after losing both of those early match clashes, the Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. ultimately faded in the second en route to multiple weekend setbacks.
The Crimson featured its freshmen throughout the line-up over the weekend, but results were mixed for the rookies in their first collegiate spring action. Jenna Friedel fashioned the best results of the group, going 1-1 in two contested matches at the No. 2 slot. The better of her two contests —a three-set 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4 triumph — came against DePaul junior Keisha Clousing, as she picked up the first victory of her career for the Harvard.
Irene Lu, Natasha Gonzalez, and Nika Besker collectively went 0-6 at the fourth, fifth, and sixth positions, respectively. Lu and Besker fared similarly in bouts against their Blue Demon opponents, as both players convincingly won the second set in three-set losses.
“It's really exciting to see so many freshmen in our starting lineup and how much heart they are putting into each match,” Ringblom said. “I am really proud of all seven of them putting in the work on and off the court either playing or cheering on the sidelines.”
In the doubles portion of the two contests, Ringblom and sophomore Sabrina Xiong played the best of the Crimson pairings. The duo finished the weekend with a 6-4 victory over No. 56 ranked Marina Cozac and Patricia Lancranjan of DePaul and a draw against Northwestern opponents. Ringblom and Xiong led 4-3 over Brooke Rischbieth and Rheeya Doshi when the event was called due to the other doubles results making continuing the match inconsequential.
All other groupings went winless on the weekend, which led to Harvard being unable to pick up the doubles points in either of its matches. Northwestern represented stiff competition for the Crimson in this category, however, as it boasts the sixth and 24th ranked partnerships in the nation.
As Harvard heads back to campus to begin the long season ahead, it sees the weekend as a measuring stick with which to gauge its potential and identify areas of improvement.
“The results this weekend show that we are right there hanging with some of the top programs in the country and that we just need to continue working hard in practice and in the gym to rise our level up to theirs,” Ringblom said. “Each match before Ivy's is a learning experience, and we will be taking this weekend as a lesson to make sure we are the fittest team when it comes to Ivy season.”
—Staff writer Jackson M. Reynolds can be reached at email@example.com.