Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame
Harvard Athletic Achievements
Hall of Fame
Remembering Harvard Athletics
I remember heading due east on 1-90 towards Boston in the family minivan stuffed to the gills with my belongings for college. Leaving Cleveland that day, I sat in the back and tried to imagine all the adventures that I would have at Harvard. It was a moment of pure potentiality – that anything could happen – and what an electric feeling that was. What would the team look like? What stories would I be a part of? What would I study?
I was so amped up for our first team practice that I arrived two hours early – well before any coaches or players (or staff) were on the grounds. My coach had instructed me to the first player at practice and the last to leave – everyday. During my four years I always checked to see if I held up my end of the bargain – and usually did. I certainly did not lack for gusto though I did need to learn a lot about channeling all that energy!
Looking back on that freshman in Greenough who could barely find the Coop, how could I have imagined that he would play professional tennis, go to graduate school and return to Harvard to follow in Dave’s footsteps? Or, ten years later, that there would be a swarm of teammates at the weddings of my former doubles partners: Josh Hausman and Todd Meringoff? Who knew that the bonds of our team and this special tennis community would extend beyond the lines of the court?
Given my journey, it is perhaps no surprise that Freshmen Move-in Day is my favorite time of year. Coach Dave Fish and I get up at the crack of dawn as our players arrive one-by-one through Johnston Gate with their families in tow. We help the frosh into their new digs in Harvard – lifting a bag or two and welcoming them into the fraternity of Harvard Tennis. Those present moments in the Yard resonate and converge with memories from my past like at no other time. It is almost as if I’m seeing double. Looking back on all this, there is both a shock of incredulity and the recognition that this path I have been on makes all the sense in the world. I was drawn to the energy of college as a place where young adults learn to look at the world through their own eyes – formulating questions and tentative answers (often in late night conversations or at the dining tables) about the nature of the world and our place in it. Even when I was in graduate school, I knew I wanted to work with college students to be a part of this great metamorphosis of young people into adults. There is so much energy and hope that keeps breathing new life into these old brick walls (and into me!).
In retrospect, it is also no surprise that I ended up in coaching. My coaches have been the mentors that have shaped my life more than anyone except my parents. Every coach I’ve had since age 11 is here tonight! What a joy to share this evening with them. They have influenced my life more than any teacher or professor.
My junior coach – Arun Jetli – helped mold me as a person and as a player. He led me through the labyrinth of junior tennis and launched my pro career. He was there with me at the smallest district tournaments in Cleveland as a young serve-and-volleyer (when I was too small to cover the lob) and he sat courtside at Wimbledon in 1997 when I played in the doubles at the All England Club. Tennis, in his worldview, is a vehicle towards self-discovery more like a zen art than a recreational pastime. Arun taught me so much about myself and the world around me. It is a debt that I could only possibly repay by passing along his lessons to my students.
My high school tennis Coach Geoff Morton is also a part of this story. He was a master planner - able to get us the best competition of any high school team in the country (and I mean that) as we traveled the East Coast in search of good high school and collegiate teams. Geoff actually introduced me to Coach Fish at the National Inter-scholastics at Duke University. He has been a consistent supporter of mine through the years.
At Harvard, I was blessed to have two amazing coaches. Greg Russell (aka G-money or G-love) and Dave Fish. Greg is without question one of the most selfless and loving men I’ve ever met. It was his charm and goodwill that endeared him to the team and everyone that crossed his path. He fed me so many serve and volley pattern drills in those morning workouts that I could do it in my sleep.
As for Dave Fish, who has been my coach and my mentor for a long time now, I couldn’t think of a better example of what it means to build a program around character and values. His insatiable curiosity to learn is inspiring. He is always stretching himself to find new ways of looking at the same problem. His technical mastery is without question. And, most importantly, it is his wisdom in shepherding young men into adulthood that is the true marker of his genius and the reason he is so widely respected as a coach and a person. Not everyone always understands his metaphors and stories at the time – but they always know what he stands for. His lessons are like time-release capsules and I love to see alums pour back into his office, call him on the phone, or write him to say, “Dave, I now see what you were trying to say…” or “Thanks for pushing me to be better - I didn’t see it at the time.” His help as a coach on court was invaluable but I have learned even more working alongside him for the past six years. I couldn’t imagine a better mentor and friend.
The list of gratitude and thank yous is very long. It is so clear to me, especially in moments like this, how true it is that “no man is an island” and how intimately my success on the tennis courts depended upon the help and support of coaches, family and friends. And it all begins at home, with my family and parents. Despite the fact I graduated nearly twenty years ago, they are still attending our matches and supporting the team! They made lots of sacrifices to help put me on the path that I’m walking down today. My mom drove me to morning practices at 5:30am for my first two years of high school before I could drive and she made me breakfast when I was finally old enough to travel alone. My dad kindled my love of the game. Without his enthusiasm I never would have played. He sawed off a wooden racket to start me on this path when I was less than two years old with only the hope of having a free hitting partner! They willingly sacrificed so much for me to be here today.
A big thank you goes out to Gary Geisler in the training room who kept me healthy during my years of injuries at Harvard and later for a bond that blossomed into a wonderful friendship. I met Gary when I went through a series of injuries my junior year – knee tendinitis and a partial tear in my labrum. I would never have returned to form for my senior campaign to win the Ivy Player of the Year for a second time without him. And to my best friend, Howie Axelrod, who has been there through thick and thin. A special thank you also to my girlfriend Alicia Pritt. You are a truly a blessing, an inspiration, and the love of my life. Our story is just starting.
And to the Harvard Tennis Family, there is something special about having so many Harvard Tennis players celebrating here together. Mike Zimmerman was my captain as a freshman, and I, in turn, was captain to Tommy Blake, who captained another group of amazing players. It is a chain that begins with Harry Cowles, Jack Barnaby and Dave Fish who have led the Crimson since 1923 (only three coaches in our whole history!). Now that I’m part of that tradition as a player and a coach, I’m only more impressed with Harvard Tennis. The Harvard Lawn Tennis Association was the precursor and model for the U.S.T.A. Harvard Tennis players founded the Davis Cup and our alumni rolls are filled with such interesting and accomplished people. The links to the past and the present are so strong, thanks to our amazing Friends Chairs, Alex Seaver and Debbie Goldfine, who are the envy of every coach at Harvard.
In the 90s, Harvard Tennis was dominant. We won nine of ten Ivy Titles and were consistently ranked in the top 20 in the year-end rankings. We battled against the best in some epic duels like Georgia at the NCAAs in 1992 and again in 1998. The only talk of getting a “ring” was when you won the Ivy Title four years in a row. We take great pride in our national accomplishments and in representing Harvard around the country. We aren’t going to take a back seat to anyone or make excuses about the workload or complain about having to take exams at the NCAA tournament (which we did every year!). We also sent a lot of players into the pro ranks. While not everyone turned out to be James Blake, it is an impressive list. I’m so proud now to see our current team is thriving and carrying on that tradition of greatness. They are not only fine players but also wonderful people and sharp students. They catapulted us back into the top 20 in the nation these past seasons and have their sights set on breaking into the top 10 next year. I will take a keen interest in following their stories as they unfold upon graduating.
And finally to my teammates, for putting up with me when my enthusiasm turned me into something less than an angel and for pushing me to tap into the better part of myself. Your friendship and support both when we were players and now as a coach is so appreciated.
What an honor to be included in such a special ceremony, with such impressive inductees. It is truly humbling to think of all past recipients and the future names that will be added to this roll. I am so grateful to be a part of an institution and an athletic department that still places a premium on the development of character and the importance of education through athletics. Many thanks.