ITHACA, N.Y. — “The biggest strength of our team is the heart and determination we bring to every match, not just from the starting lineup but to our seventh man,” sophomore Brian Shi said.
The Crimson men certainly brought a certain sense of urgency and resilience to the ECAC tournament this past weekend, coming out with a 4-2 win against Princeton on Saturday, but later losing a hard-fought match in the finals against Cornell, who was playing on its home court, by a score of 1-4.
“We went into the match with the same mentality we’ve had all season,” said first-year Ronan Jachuck of the first match. “[Winning] the ECAC tournament has been a goal that we set out at the end of the fall season as one of our highlights for the season.”
Harvard went down early during the doubles point, as Jachuck and Shi fell to a pair of Princeton athletes 6-1, followed by the pairing of first-year Henry von der Schulenburg and junior Robert Wrzesinski losing its doubles game by a score of 6-3.
“We’ve lost the doubles point a few times this season,” Jachuck said. “So I think the biggest thing was just bouncing back. Losing the point wasn’t a huge dagger.”
Jachuck also cited that because of the trust the team has built up in each other over the course of the year, they were hardly fazed by losing the initial point.
The trust then started to pay off, as the Crimson men began capturing victories on multiple courts. Jachuck was one of the last players on the courts, as he dropped the first set to Princeton’s Karl Poling, 4-6. After the slow start to the match, Jachuck started getting into a rhythm, evening the match out at a set a piece with a 7-6(5) tiebreak win in the second frame.
“At that point, the matches were starting to dwindle down and the crowds were getting a little bigger and my teammates were coming off the court,” Jachuck said. “I remember looking up at [after the winning point at the end of the second set], and then I think the dynamic of the match changed. I definitely had a bit more spring in my step [in the third, and final, set].”
Jachuck went on to come out with a victory in the third set, 6-3, clinching the match for the Harvard men, sending them to their third straight ECAC final against Cornell.
On Sunday afternoon, the Crimson came out swinging, with von der Schulenburg and Wrzesinski winning, 6-4, and the duo of sophomores Steven Sun and Harris Walker taking their game by a convincing 6-1 margin, securing the doubles point that Harvard had failed to get in the previous match against Princeton.
“Our number two and three doubles teams played great matches and brought amazing energy, which is crucial especially against a team with a large crowd on their side,” Shi said. “There’s still quite a bit of work to be done on the doubles front, but I know for a fact that come Ivy [League Championship] season we will continue to come out with more and more doubles points.”
After the doubles point, however, Cornell started to gain some steam, as Big Red junior Eero Vasa defeated Jachuck on the first court in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. Harvard did not go down without a fight, as Shi battled hard against on the second court, followed by von der Schulenburg taking another Cornell athlete to three sets, but the Crimson failed to secure a victory on the singles courts.
Despite shortcomings in the latter part of the match, Shi, and other members of the team, found a lot of positives to take away from the match.
“Our team is so close-knit and we want to fight hard so that we can win not just for ourselves, but for our teammates on the court to the left and right of us,” Shi said. “That’s what really allows us to bring such high energy to each match up and down the lineup, and at the end of the day, we weren’t able to come up with the win, but we played with heart which we can all be very proud of.”
Shi also noted that although the team was very disappointed by the result of the tournament, this might have been just what they needed to reach even bigger goals.
“We have so much talent on this team and we are capable of doing so much this season. This match is a very small speed bump in what will surely be an incredible next few months,” Shi said. “Being this was only our first loss of the season so far, I know that each and every one of us will train even harder and come back even more motivated than ever before.”
While dreams of an undefeated season are now over, a fire has bit lit under the Harvard athletes as they prepare for upcoming matches and championship season with bigger chips on their shoulders than before.
“Although it would’ve been nice to hold up the ECACs trophy, there is so much more to look forward to [Ivy League and NCAA Championship season],” Shi said. “We are all already looking forward to getting our revenge in the upcoming Ivy season.”
— Staff writer David Aley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.