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For the Harvard women’s tennis team, this weekend saw a continuation of a trend of close Ivy League matches. Like all the Crimson’s other Ancient Eight contests this season, this weekend’s away matches were nail biters—both decided by just one point. The team kicked off its road trip with a 4-3 victory against Columbia on Friday afternoon and finished with a loss to Cornell on Saturday by the same narrow margin.
Harvard went into the weekend with confidence after edging both Brown and Yale 4-3 last weekend. This momentum was bolstered by a No. 49 ranking in the ITA rankings announced earlier in the week, the first time the Crimson has broken the top 50 since the 2009-10 season.
“It’s really nice to see how our team is getting stronger and stronger each Ivy League match,” head coach Traci Green said. “Cornell didn’t go our way but the overall spirit and toughness of our team is really showing.”
With its results this weekend, Harvard will stay atop the Ivy League. However, the team has to share possession of the coveted first place with Princeton, which it will face next weekend.
CORNELL, 4, HARVARD, 3
This weekend’s match in Ithaca was not the first meeting between Harvard and Cornell this season. The teams faced each other in the ECAC Championships in February, when the Crimson walked away with a 4-3 victory. This time, however, the roles were reversed, as the Big Red (13-6, 3-2 Ivy League) came out on top.
The deciding point of the match rested on the No. 3 singles match between Harvard freshman Jenna Friedl and Cornell junior Priyanka Shah. After losing the first set 7-6, Friedl battled back to win the second set, also by a margin of 7-6. Despite a 4-1 lead in the third set, the California native was unable to close the final set, falling 7-5.
“Jenna’s a fighter, and Cornell was doing a great job of counterpunching,” coach Green said. “It literally came down to just a few points.”
The match started off strong for the Crimson, as it was able to secure the doubles point with wins in the first and second positions. The duo of captain June Lee and sophomore Erica Oosterhout put on an impressive 6-4 performance against Cornell seniors Marika Cusick and Alexandra D’Ascenzo, improving to 13-9 on the season in the No. 1 doubles slot. Sophomore Sabrina Xiong and junior Annika Ringblom made quick work of Cornell’s second doubles pair, defeating Shah and and sophomore Mariko Iinuma 6-3.
Despite winning the doubles point, Harvard was unable to capitalize on its one-point lead in the singles competition. Oosterhout, playing No. 1 singles, fell to Cusick 6-1, 6-1, and freshmen Lexi Milunovich and Irene Lu fell in the fourth and fifth positions, respectively. After winning her first set 6-2, Milunovich was unable to hang on, ultimately falling by margins of 6-3 and 7-6 in the final two sets. Lu wasn’t able to keep her match as close, losing 6-3, 6-3 to the Big Red’s Iinuma.
Though these three singles losses, combined with Friedl’s defeat in the deciding match, meant the end of Harvard’s unbeaten record in the Ivy League, the match did have some highlights for the Crimson. In the second position, Lee continued her consistent performance with a 6-3, 7-6 win over D’Ascenzo, and in the sixth position, Ringblom battled back from a 6-1 loss in the first set to win the last two sets 7-6 and 6-4.
“Hats off to the way [Cornell] competed at home with their backs against the wall,” Green said. “They came through, and they deserved to win yesterday.”
HARVARD, 4, COLUMBIA, 3
In its first match of the weekend, the Crimson faced a struggling Columbia team. After losing seven of its first eight matches this season the Lions (5-14, 1-4 Ivy League) clinched their first Ivy League win against Penn on April 7. However, they were unable to improve their Ancient Eight record on Friday at home, as Harvard earned the 4-3 win.
The Crimson got off to a slow start, dropping the doubles point with losses in the second and third doubles positions. Freshmen Natasha Gonzalez and Milunovich lost 6-2 at No. 2 doubles, and the No. 3 pair of Lu and Ringblom fell in a similar manner, 6-4. Harvard’s first doubles duo of Oosterhout and Lee, who have been solid all season, didn’t get a chance to finish their match, as Columbia had secured the point already.
“We’re the veteran doubles team,” Oosterhout said of her and Lee’s consistency in the first doubles position. “We played last year together. We really try to use our experience to help the rest of the team, especially the freshmen. Unfortunately, we lost the doubles point to Columbia, but we were able to bounce back.”
Though Oosterhout lost a hard-fought No. 1 singles match in 7-6, 7-6, 11-9 tiebreaker, she relied on her teammates to anchor the victory, as they won four of the remaining five singles matches. Lee earned her 21st victory of the season with a 7-6, 6-2 performance against Columbia sophomore Andrea Kevakian in the second position, while Ringblom defeated Lions junior Adi Milstein 6-1, 6-3.
“Both matches came down to really close margins, and the whole team was supporting on every court,” Oosterhout said. “I think that was our major improvement, our support for each other while we’re playing.”
The team certainly had reason to cheer on the three freshmen who made their presence felt in the singles lineup for the Crimson. Lu tallied her 18th win of the season with a commanding 6-1, 7-5 victory over senior Vivian Cheng in the fifth position, and Friedl secured the winning point for the Crimson with her 6-4, 7-5 defeat of junior Rima Asatrian in the third position. Despite a close first set, Milunovich fell to fellow freshman Ali Pollack 7-6, 6-1 in the No. 4 singles slot.
“We have a fairly young squad, and all this away Ivy League match experience is definitely going to pay off nicely for us in the future,” said Green of her seven freshmen. “We feel like our team is getting stronger and also closer together, and we’re hoping to build on this momentum.”
—Staff writer Jamie Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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