Season Recap: Strong Finish, Numerous Awards Put Exclamation Point on 2009 Campaign

Season Recap: Strong Finish, Numerous Awards Put Exclamation Point on 2009 Campaign

A second-place Ivy League finish as well as numerous Ancient Eight and ITA awards highlighted the 2008-09 season for the Harvard men’s tennis team. The Crimson’s fall campaign was marked by wins in both the ITA Northeast singles and doubles brackets, while the spring season ended with a Crimson player appearing in the NCAA championships for the second year in a row.

Harvard finished the 2009 campaign with a 13-9 overall record, including 5-2 in the Ivy League, tying for second with Cornell and Yale in the Ancient Eight standings. Dave Fish, the Scott Mead ’77 Family Head Coach for Harvard Men’s Tennis, led the Crimson to a ranking of 63 in the final ITA/Campbell’s College Tennis Rankings as well as the Crimson’s first ECAC Championship since the fall of 2004.

Award Season
When all was said and done, the Crimson faired more than adequate in its end-of-season honors. Senior Chris Clayton wrapped up his career by being named the Ivy League Player of the Year, the 10th time a player has garnered the honor in the 23 years of its existence. In addition, Clayton became the sixth Crimson player to earn All-Ivy League first-team honors in singles for three different years.

Sophomore Alexei Chijoff-Evans also garnered first-team All-Ivy honors, as he and Clayton were unanimous selections. Chijoff-Evans and Clayton were tabbed to the second team in doubles, while senior Sasha Ermakov earned honorable mention in singles. Chijoff-Evans was also named Academic All-Ivy.

The awards for Clayton and Chijoff-Evans continued to pile up when the Intercollegiate Tennis Association bestowed its end-of-season honors. For the Northeast Region, Clayton was named the Farnsworth/ITA Senior Player of the Year, while Chijoff-Evans was given the ITA Player to Watch award.

Clayton was honored for his work off the court with the ITA/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership & Sportsmanship for the Northeast region, which goes to a player who has exhibited outstanding sportsmanship and leadership as well as scholastic, extracurricular and tennis achievements. He was also one of six regional nominees up for the ITA/Rafael Osuna Sportsmanship Award, given to the player who displays sportsmanship, character, excellent academics, and has had outstanding tennis accomplishments.

Clayton was also named the John M. Barnaby Most Valuable Player as voted on by teammates and was given the Ned Weld Above and Beyond Award. Teammates voted Chijoff-Evans the Alden J. Bryan Most Improved Player.

Clayton was the lone Ivy League player to appear in postseason play in either singles or doubles, as the co-captain, ranked 79th in the second-to-last ITA rankings of the season, fell to eventual semifinalist and No. 15 Blake Strode of Arkansas, 6-2, 6-2, during the first round of action. Clayton also competed in the championships as a junior where he also fell in the first round.

The Fall Campaign
Harvard kicked off the new tennis year at the 2008 Napa Valley Tennis Classic Sept. 12-14. Clayton scored the highlight of the weekend, knocking off Nate Schnugg of Georgia, 6-4, 6-4. Schnugg was ranked 12th in the preseason rankings that came out a week earlier.

Chijoff-Evans and freshman Alistair Felton then won their respective singles brackets at the USTA Invitational Sept. 19-21, as Chijoff-Evans won the second-bracket title and Felton captured the fifth. Harvard then competed at the Tom Fallon Invitational at Notre Dame and the Columbia Classic Oct. 10-12. Crimson players went 12-12 in singles and 6-3 in doubles at the Tom Fallon Invite. In addition, Clayton competed at the D’Novo/ITA All-American Championships Oct. 9-12, falling in both of his matches.

Fall play continued at the ITA Northeast Regionals Oct. 16-21 at Yale, where Clayton and Chijoff-Evans won the doubles title and Clayton captured the singles crown, becoming the first players in four years to win regionals. Ermakov and junior Spencer Vegosen advanced to the semifinals in doubles.

Vegosen, Felton and sophomore Aba Omodele-Lucien all advanced to the semifinals of the ‘A’ bracket at the Big Green Invitational Nov. 1-3, while freshman Mac McAnulty defeated classmate Liinus Hietaniemi in the ‘B’ bracket final.

Clayton and Chijoff-Evans won their first match at the ITA National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships Nov. 6-9 at Virginia, while Clayton fell in the first round of the singles bracket. In the last action of the fall season for the Crimson, Clayton fell, 7-6(6), 7-5 in the consolation bracket to John Patrick Smith of Tennessee, the 2008 NCAA runner-up.

The Spring Season
Before beginning dual play, the Crimson hosted the Harvard Intersession Invite Jan. 23-25, going 15-13 overall in singles and 9-8 in doubles against Marist and Auburn-Montgomery, the 2008 NAIA national champs.

Dual season began for Harvard at the ITA Kick-Off Weekend Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Tennessee. The Crimson fell to the No. 8 host Volunteers, 7-0, but defeated No. 52 Drake, 4-3, during the second day of action. After Harvard won the doubles point, Chijoff-Evans and junior Michael Hayes won their respective matches, while Felton earned the win at No. 5 singles for the clinching point.

After a two-week break, it was back home to the Murr Center for the inaugural ECAC Division I Indoor Tennis Championships Feb. 13-16. Harvard began play during day two, defeating St. John’s, 4-0. The excitement began to brew as the weekend wore on, as Harvard squeaked out a win over Penn, 4-3, on the third day. Chijoff-Evans won at No. 1 singles, the last match to finish, as he dropped the first set, 6-3, before regrouping for a pair of 7-6 wins in the next two sets, winning the third-set tiebreaker, 9-7, for the win.

Felton then provided the heroics in the final against Columbia, as he rallied after dropping the first set for a 10-8 win in the second-set tiebreaker. With the score tied, 3-3, the rookie was able to put the match away with a third-set win, 6-4, giving Harvard its first ECAC crown since the fall of 2004.

The Crimson hit the road for a pair of matches against Big Ten foes, falling to No. 19 Michigan, 5-2, Feb. 20 and to Northwestern, 7-0, Feb. 22. Clayton, making his first spring appearance, and Chijoff-Evans won at No. 1 and 2 against the Wolverines, knocking off ranked opponents in the process.

It was back home March 8 for a match against Marquette, as the Crimson swept doubles and won five of six singles matches for a 6-1 win. From there, it was on to Virginia for a pair of road contests March 14 and 15. The Crimson won slots 4-6 in singles but lost the doubles point and the top three slots in falling to Old Dominion, 4-3. Harvard was able to rebound the next day against No. 49 William & Mary, taking the first four singles matches of the day in straight sets for the victory. Senior co-captain Michael Kalfayan won at No. 6 singles during both days to lead the Crimson.

Against Portland March 20 at the Murr Center, the Crimson dropped all three doubles matches, but reversed fortunes in singles play, sweeping all six matches without dropping a set for the 6-1 win. It was Harvard’s ninth straight win at home, dating back to March 2008.

Some California sunshine was in store for Harvard on its annual spring break trip, but after a 4-3 win over Loyola Marymount March 22, the Crimson dropped the final three matches heading into Ivy League play. No. 37 San Diego State earned a solid 6-1 win March 25, while UC Irvine captured the last two matches of the day for a 4-3 March 26. No. 75 San Diego swept all three doubles and won four of six singles matches for a 5-2 win March 28.

Harvard’s losing streak continued when the team opened Ivy play at home, as the Crimson swept all three doubles matches against Columbia April 3 before the Lions won the first four singles matches for the win. Clayton and Chijoff-Evans won at the top of the lineup for the final 4-3 margin. Harvard finally got back in the win column the next day against Cornell, as Clayton’s win at No. 1 – after dropping the opening set – gave Harvard the victory, 4-3.

The next weekend on the road, Princeton shocked Harvard with a 4-3 win April 10, as the teams split the six singles matches after the Tigers won the doubles point. Harvard went to 2-2 in Ivy League play the next day at Penn, winning all three doubles matches and singles slots 1-3 and 6 for the 5-2 win.

Harvard topped No. 73 Brown, 5-2, April 17 in its only match of the year at the Beren Tennis Center, as Harvard won the second and third doubles matches, followed by the No. 1-2 and 5-6 singles matches. Two days later at Yale, the Crimson took down the No. 64 Bulldogs, 5-2, as this time Harvard lost two of three matches in doubles before winning slots 1-5 in singles.

Harvard ended the regular season April 22 at Dartmouth, easily overwhelming the Big Green in a 6-1 win, locking up second place in the Ancient Eight behind first-place Columbia.

The Stats
Harvard players went a combined 149-135 in singles play and 66-69 in doubles action during the 2008-09 campaign. During the dual season, Crimson players sported a 69-60 mark in singles and a 29-35 record in doubles.

Clayton went 10-4 at No. 1 singles, while Chijoff-Evans went 12-2 at No. 2 and 14-5 overall. They tied for the team lead along with Felton and freshman Davis Mangham with 20 wins each. Mangham boasted an 11-8 record during dual play, while Omodele-Lucien went 10-7. Felton and Ermakov posted eight and seven wins, respectively, during dual play.

Chijoff-Evans had a team-high 21 wins in doubles play, going 21-14 overall. Hayes was second on the team with a 17-12 overall mark. Clayton and Ermakov each had 16 wins, while Felton had 14. Mangham and Omodele-Lucien also posted double-digits wins with 13 each.

Clayton and Chijoff-Evans were the top duo in doubles, going 16-9 overall during the year, including 6-6 in dual play. Felton and Hayes had the most wins with eight, while Omodele-Lucien posted four wins during dual play with Ermakov as well as Mangham.

Clayton ended his career with an 84-49 record in singles and a 39-30 mark in doubles. Ermakov posted a solid 66-37 mark in doubles after being named to first-team All-Ivy in doubles three straight years with Ashwin Kumar ’08. Ermakov also had a career 54-46 record in singles. Kalfayan had marks of 31-28 in singles and 17-18 in doubles, while senior Michael Libert appeared in six singles matches and seven doubles matches throughout his career.

Up Next
Hayes, the only junior on the 2009 spring roster, will serve as captain for the 2009-10 season. The Crimson will lose the services of Clayton, Ermakov, Kalfayan and Libert, but will return a host of underclassmen who played a significant role for the Crimson in 2009 and will be counted on even more come 2010.