After suffering a litany of injuries in the spring, the Harvard women’s tennis team finished last season with a record of 7-12, including an 0-7 mark in Ivy League play. The 2015 campaign was the first time in coach Traci Green’s tenure that the Crimson went winless against Ivy League opponents, and only the second time under Green that Harvard finished below .500 for an entire season.
This weekend, the Crimson attempts to start the new season on a different note.
On Friday, the Harvard women’s tennis team kicks off the year with the Harvard Fall Classic, a three-day tournament at the Beren Tennis Center featuring players from Harvard, Boston College, Columbia, Connecticut, Wake Forest, and Yale. This marks the start of the individual tournament-based fall season and is the first time since 2011 that the season-opener for the Crimson will be played at home. In January, Harvard will begin the more team-oriented spring season.
“We are excited to have our team back and looking forward to our first home event,” Green said. “We’re hosting very strong competition and are looking forward to getting back into the swing of things. We are using this tournament as part of the process to prepare for the spring season… and are looking to get our feet back.”
Senior Amy He captains a young and upcoming group that sees the return of only three other juniors and seniors, fellow senior Amanda Lin and juniors Danielle Mirda and June Lee. Following the graduation of captain Sylvia Li, Lee anticipates the four upperclassmen will take on more of a leadership role this year.
“Freshmen and sophomores look to the juniors and seniors during practice and team things,” Lee said. “I’ve learned so much over the last few years, so hopefully I’ll be able to teach the freshmen something.”
Despite last season’s woes, two bright spots were the play of now-sophomores Nikki Kallenberg and Annika Ringblom. In doubles, Ringblom ended the season with a 16-12 record and an All-Ivy League second team selection. In singles, Kallenberg, recently ranked No. 98 in an Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason poll, finished off last season with a team-best 19-6 record.
Kallenberg and Ringblom are poised to be contenders in the Fall Classic, which also features junior Lexi Borr and sophomore Asiya Dair of Boston College, both of whom attained ITA preseason rankings in the 90s. Senior Kanika Vaidya of Columbia, a recent first team All-Ivy selection, and junior Kimmy Guerin of Wake Forest, ranked No. 84 by the ITA, also figure to be threats.
Besides goals of capturing this weekend’s title, Green emphasizes the role that the tournament plays in preparing the team for a long season.
“We really haven’t had that many days of practice,” Green said. “We’re using this tournament to brush off some of the cobwebs, and are really excited to compete at home and to get back to playing tournament tennis.”
The Harvard Fall Classic will be the first chance to adjust to college play for the team’s four new freshmen: Isabel Jasper, Erica Oosterhout, Claire Spackman, and Sabrina Xiong. This will also be the first exposure to Crimson tennis for the team’s new assistant coach, Andrew Laing, who was hired over the summer.
“We’re a very young group, but our team still has a lot of depth and everyone plays very differently,” Lee said. “It’ll be really good and interesting to see how everyone does against all the other schools.”
The last time the Harvard Fall Classic was hosted in 2011, Harvard came home with championship wins. This year’s team hopes to bring back similar hardware, but acknowledges that the tournament is a learning experience.
“It’s our first tournament with a whole new team,” Lee said. “Our goals are to try our best and have the best attitude possible.”