College ball

On Saturday, I watched the Haverford College Men’s Tennis team take on McDaniel College, a D III school in Maryland. Haverford is making a bid for its first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships.

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But first Haverford has to win its league, the Centennial Conference, or at least finish strong enough to earn a wild card into the Championships. At the end of the 2007 season, Haverford was ranked 30th in the national D III standings. Not bad, but Centennial Conference rivals Johns Hopkins and Swarthmore, a one-time national power and D III champ, rank higher. Maryland’s Washington College, which usually has one or two suspiciously good South Americans on the roster, is another threat. Haverford doesn’t clash with these titans until the end of the season.

In the meantime, the squad has sprinted to a 3-0 start in Centennial Conference play. McDaniel wasn’t expected to be much of a challenge, and Haverford gave its strongest players the day off. Haverford swept two of the three doubles courts (good for one point) and six of the seven singles matches (good for six points), beating McDaniel 7-2 and improving to 4-0 in Conference play.

I spent most of the afternoon watching the first singles match between Haverford’s Hailu Yang and McDaniel’s Dan Hovorka. How did their games compare with what I see at 4.0? Their serves had a lot more power and variety. I rarely see a decent kick serve in rec play (yes, I’m trying to fix that), but Yang in particular managed to kick his second serve high and deep, rarely double-faulting. The groundstrokes were more powerful (in Hovarth’s case) and more consistent (in Yang’s case).

Hovarth was hitting a flat forehand that moved through the court. Yang was quick enough to get back some of these shots. He was able to move the ball around the court with heavily topspun forehands and sliced backhands that floated like knuckleballs through the breezy, late winter chill.

Yang’s speed, consistency, and placement gave him the edge off the ground, while his powerful first delivery and deep kicker kept him ahead on his serve. Yang prevailed 6-2, 6-3.

I’ll try to catch another Haverford match this season, preferably against one of the Conference’s stronger teams, and report back on the team’s progresss toward the NCAAs.

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