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‘One Match at a Time’: Men’s Tennis Methodically Works Its Way to Glory

The Harvard men's team performed remarkably well this past season, going perfect on its home court and earning the highest NCAA tournament seeding in program history.
The Harvard men's team performed remarkably well this past season, going perfect on its home court and earning the highest NCAA tournament seeding in program history. By Sarah G. Erickson
By Lauren K. Choy and Daniel Hochberg, Crimson Staff Writers

Winning a third consecutive Ivy League title —the 33rd in program history — dominating on the court, and showing great promise for the future, the Harvard men’s tennis team has earned itself the honor of Team of the Year after a season of triumphs.

The squad has had an historic year, winning the Ivy League championship in thrilling fashion. Not only did the Crimson win the league championship, but it had a legitimately impressive season, finishing 15-0 at home and earning the highest NCAA Tournament seeding in program history.

Its most recent success — reaching the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year — marks the team’s emphatic reversal of fortune. Before last season, it hadn’t reached the second weekend of the tournament since 2004.

Amidst all its achievement, coaches and players alike acknowledge that its Ivy title victory against Princeton is a moment that is hard to beat. “The most memorable moment in the Ivy portion of the season was certainly our match with Princeton,” said the Scott Mead ʼ77 Head Coach for Men’s Tennis, Andrew Rueb ʼ95.

The win was especially notable not just because it secured Harvard the title, but also because of the standout performance from freshman Rohan Murali. The match with Princeton was a nail-biter, with the final point coming down to Murali on court 5.

In his rookie year as a member of the Crimson, Murali has experienced impressive growth throughout the season. When the Ivy title came down to his match, he stepped up and helped his team. It was amazing “to see him come out, win in those circumstances, and elevate his game,” Rueb reflected.

His success demonstrates the huge roles that several players stepped into. “We've been really pleasantly surprised to see lots of players step up when they were given a chance to compete, and that's been really exciting,” Rueb explained.

The Princeton match wrapped up a hugely successful regular season for the Crimson. Harvard tennis’s strong leadership has played a key role in the team’s success this season.

Senior David Arkow credits a large portion of the team’s success to the culture of the team, led by senior captains Alan Yim, Henry von der Schulenburg, and Ronan Jachuck.

“Just little things like that, off the court, hanging out and spending time together, makes people buy in more and want to work harder if you're more connected. Even if you're not in a match, everyone really, really cares and really, really wants this,” Arkow said.

Nevertheless, it is also resoundingly clear that the Crimson’s success this season would not have been possible without contributions from everyone on the team. Freshman phenom Cooper Williams emphasized the sentiment that the team as a whole is responsible for individual success.

“My teammates have done an amazing job. The coaches have done an amazing job with me to the point where I've had a really good season as a single player, doubles player, a team player,” Williams said. “We perform at a really high level.”

Rueb attributes the team’s on-court success in part to its tough in-season competition.

“One of the reasons that we were able to be ranked so high and finish the season at 12th in the country is that we scheduled top level competition, and that gets you ready. You take some losses, yes, but it also gets you better. And our goal is to be playing our best tennis here in May, at the NCAA tournament,” he said.

This is where Harvard tennis’s attention now turned. In the NCAA tournament this year, the Crimson faced off against strong tennis programs from across the country.

“You want to make sure that you're healthy, rested, and that you've been competing,” said Rueb of the team’s tournament preparation. “Trust the training that we've done all year. I think that at this time of year, you really lean into all the work you've done and trust that.”

After winning its two match-ups against Boston University and Michigan State University on its home courts at the Beren Tennis Center, the team moved on to the Sweet 16, facing a tough challenge from No. 5 University of Kentucky .

After falling in the Round of 32 two years ago, and the Sweet Sixteen last year, Arkow was excited for another crack at it this year. The team’s goal was “to get one match at a time,” Arkow explained.

The squad will look to continue with its hot streak next season despite losing the prowess of a powerful senior class.
The squad will look to continue with its hot streak next season despite losing the prowess of a powerful senior class. By Sarah G. Erickson

Unfortunately, Harvard tennis’s historic season came to an end in the Sweet Sixteen, falling to the Wildcats in a hard-fought battle, 4-2.

Nevertheless, No. 66 von der Schulenburg had a strong last performance for his team, defeating Kentucky’s No. 80 Joshua Lapadat 7-5, 6-4 on court two and securing his 13th and final win for the Crimson.

Junior Daniel Milavsky also finished the season with a strong performance, defeating the Wildcats’ Jaden Weekes 6-0, 6-2. Milavsky has been dominant all season. For the week of April 29, Milavsky earned Harvard Athletics’ Student-Athlete of the Week award, presented by the Harvard COOP.

Although team competition came to an end during this matchup against the Wildcats on May 11, Williams and Milavsky will continue to represent Harvard tennis at the 2024 NCAA Individual Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Following Stillwater, the national championships begin on May 20, where Williams will enter for a chance to earn the singles title at the No.15 ranking. Williams and Milavsky will also enter the NCAA doubles tournament.

Williams recognizes the challenge set out in front of him, but is ready to take it on. “It's going to be a grind but I really want to perform the best I possibly can. I'm excited. The next four weeks are going to be a busy time, but it's going to be a lot of fun,” Williams said.

Whether it be the outstanding performances from Williams and Milavsky, strong leadership from the senior captains, or the never-ending support from the coaching staff, everyone on the Crimson squad contributed to its unforgettable season. It is this type of complete performance that earned the squad our coveted team award this season.

—Staff writer Lauren Choy can be reached at lauren.choy@thecrimson.com

—Staff writer Daniel Hochberg can be reached at daniel.hochberg@thecrimson.com

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