No. 23 Harvard Men's Tennis Ready for NCAA Showdown With No. 45 Virginia Tech

No. 23 Harvard Men's Tennis Ready for NCAA Showdown With No. 45 Virginia Tech

Senior Alistair Felton looks to lead his team to its second victory over No. 45 Virginia Tech this season. (Gil Talbot)

Championship Central (Livestats)

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The Particulars
For the first time since 2008, the No.23 Harvard men's tennis team will appear in the NCAA tournament. The Crimson clinched the Ivy League automatic bid April 28, when it edged Dartmouth, 4-3, at the Beren Tennis Center. Harvard heads to Gainesville, Fla., as No.11 Florida will serve as host of the first and second rounds. First up for the Crimson will be No.45 Virginia Tech, while the Gators will square off with Navy. First round matches will be played on May 12 while the winners of those matches will compete on May 13.

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How Harvard Got Here
When Harvard went 9-1 in its first 10 dual matches, many wondered whether it had the staying power to be considered a top team in the country. With four freshman playing in its starting lineup, the question wasn't unwarranted, but Harvard answered by going 13-1 in its final fourteen contests, tallying its second-best record in school history and earning one of the best rankings in program annals.

It didn't take long for Harvard to prove it could contend as the squad swept the competition in its opening tournament, defeating Denver (4-0), Drake (4-1) and DePaul (4-0).The Crimson then went on the road and earned its first statement victory, defeating then-No.34 Vanderbilt, 4-3.

Harvard fell to Indiana on the trip but maintained its poise heading into its next match. The Crimson didn't disappoint as the team reeled off 13-straight wins including one of the most impressive victories in school history when it took down then-No.16 University of San Diego, 4-2.The Crimson also defeated UC Irvine and San Diego State to be crowned Hilton Mission Valley Spring Classic champion.

The next big step for Harvard was facing familiar foes in the Ivy League. The Crimson had gotten a taste of its Ancient Eight opponents when it faced Yale, Dartmouth and Brown at the ECAC indoor tournament in February, and it defeated each of those teams at the event. The Crimson defeated Cornell, 7-0, in its ivy opener. Columbia, Harvard's next test, proved to be a much more difficult challenge. While Harvard took the doubles point, the Lions took control of singles play, going 5-1 and handing Harvard its second defeat of the season.
The Crimson bounced back to win its final five matches, the last two by 4-3 marks. In its final match against Dartmouth, with the Ivy League title on the line, the score stood at 3-3 with Denis Nguyen and Michael Laser playing for the final point. Nguyen battled back after losing the first set to clinch Harvard's 29th Ivy League championship.

How the Other Teams Got Here
Virginia Tech battled through a difficult schedule that featured 17 ranked teams including nine ranked conference opponents. The Hokies enter the tournament as an at-large bid after falling to No.32 Florida State in the ACC tournament, 4-1.Virginia Tech had defeated the Seminoles a week before the conference tournament, upsetting Florida State, 4-3, April 15.Up until the tournament loss, Virginia Tech had been on a three-game win streak.

Navy enters the tournament as the Patriot League champion after the Mids defeated Army, 4-1, in Annapolis, Md. To open the tournament, Navy defeated the fourth-seeded Bucknell Bison, 4-1, to advance to the championship round. The Mids were a perfect 5-0 against league foes in the spring and continued that into the tournament. Navy finished the year 17-11.

No.11 Florida enters as the top seed and host for the first and second rounds of the tournament. The Gators went 14-9 in 2012 and recorded a 7-4 mark in conference. The squad entered the SEC quarterfinals set to take on Ole Miss. The Rebels took the doubles point and went on to go 3-1 in singles play to down the Gators 4-1.Before that loss, Florida had won five of its last six.

Series History
Harvard has yet to lose a match against Virginia Tech, as the Crimson has a 10-0 all-time record against the Hokies. Harvard registered its 10th win against the team from Blacksburg, Va., when it won, 4-3, at the Murr Center Tennis courts Feb.11.Harvard took the doubles point as Casey MacMaster and Alistair Felton, Denis Nguyen and Andy Nguyen, and Henry Steer and Jon Pearlman all tallied wins in doubles play.

The Hokies gained some traction in singles action, as they evened the score 2-2 after Luka Somen and Lucas Oliveira recorded wins over Jon Pearlman and Denis Nguyen, respectively. With the score at 3-3, it came down to Alex Steinroeder who won the last two sets in his match after dropping his first to help lift Harvard to a 4-3 victory.

The Crimson has also had success against the Hokies in the NCAA tournament, topping Virginia Tech three times in three career meetings.

The Crimson in the NCAA Tournament
Harvard's 2012 tournament invitation marks the 21st time Harvard will play in the NCAA tournament with its first appearance coming in 1981.The furthest the Crimson has advanced in the tournament was 1997 when Harvard earned a berth in the quarterfinal round against No.3 Stanford. The Cardinal downed Harvard, 4-0, during the match. The Crimson has accrued a 13-20 record all-time in NCAA tournament action.

They're Honored
Harvard had four players earn All-Ivy League honors this past week. Jon Pearlman recorded his second straight first team All-Ivy League singles selection while freshman Denis Nguyen took home all-Ivy League second team singles honors. Alistair Felton and Casey MacMaster received All-Ivy League doubles accolades.