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Harvard Athletic Achievements
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Remembering Harvard Athletics
In remembering my athletic experience at Harvard, I really can’t isolate it from the totality of my undergraduate time in Cambridge. It was an incredible and transformative experience. To have had the privilege to attend and participate, in both academic and athletic endeavors, was a tremendous opportunity and remains a source of great pride.
I believe that for many colleges participation in a varsity sport is the defining experience for the athlete, and a significantly different experience from that of the rest of the student body. In contrast, it was my observation that the experience for Harvard athletes was only qualitatively different from other Harvard students. Many, many Harvard students had exceptional skills, interests, and activities beyond the academic curriculum that were pursued with equal commitment.
For me, the theme common to my entire experience at Harvard was the exposure to exceptional people. This was certainly the case with my teammates; they were all exceptional in their own way. Participating in a sport provided a broader opportunity to know them.
It was originally my intention to play football for Harvard. The transition from high school to college level football mirrored my experience with the change in climate from San Diego. Definitely took it up a notch in intensity. By late October I had learned that footballs can freeze, the concept of layering for warmth, and that there are lineman who could run faster than I.
My start with Harvard volleyball came about by chance when I met my Grays west neighbor Jon Tanaka that first winter on his way to volleyball practice. Not recognizing it was a formal sport, and considering it a warm alternative to running around the Charles, I asked if I could join him. Jon, being the cool easy going Hawaiian that he is said sure. I still remember the confused look Coach Roger Martin and I shared when he arrived at practice to find me on the court with his team. Fortunate for me, a spot had opened up on the team due to injury and I was allowed to stay.
The summer after my freshman year I made the decision that the time required for the football program was greater than I was able to commit. While this decision was met with some disappointment, it was accepted without significant negative consequence. Thank you Ivy League approach to sports.
My freshman year was the first for Men’s Volleyball as a varsity sport. Roger, who had played club volleyball for Harvard as an undergrad, was principally responsible for engineering this change in status the year prior. Those first two seasons were developmental for the program, with memories primarily consisting of playing volleyball like a football player and endless van road trips through the grey New England winter/spring.
The program shook off the remaining vestiges of its club legacy with the arrival of Ihsan Gurdal as coach my junior year. Ihsan had played VB for the Turkish national team prior to transferring to California where he played for UC Berkeley. His international experience, technical expertise, and competitive intensity transformed us. Practices became much more physically demanding, and mental mistakes were…um… pointed out. A good friend to this day, his example of competitive posture and personal style remain an inspiration.
My memories of our junior season include winning the Ivy League championship, and Russell Riopelle emerging as one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I was named MVP of the Ivy Tournament but it can be argued that honor should have been shared with our senior setter Brad Martin. Hitters get the spotlight but setters win games.
Similar to my story, our teams had a number of players that crossed over from other sports. Russell Riopelle and Scott Alpert were both recruited by Harvard for football and soccer respectively, Mark Chang and Mohan Nadkarni were both recruited to play basketball. All excellent athletes that found their way into leadership positions on the team.
Despite the lack of a formal recruiting effort, the program still attracted talented and experienced volleyball athletes as well. Jon Tanaka, John Ross, Sean Doyle and Adam Keller were all national caliber players from their respective high schools.
Other memorable players from my time: the first family of Harvard Volleyball - brothers Roger, Brad and Terry Martin; Bruce Cadenhead playing every minute with pure heart; David Perkel, performing neurology experiments (brain surgery) before practice; Danny Epstein, a musician and kindred spirit; Seth Farber and the famous cheese incident.
Having watched the current Men’s volleyball team, it is doubtful any of us would see much playing time were we on the team today. Coach Brian Baise has assembled a team of spectacular athletes and the program has risen to top 10 status in NCAA. We can take pride in this, however, as we recognize our contributions in building the program. Our role now is to support where we can, and helping to provide the same opportunities we enjoyed.
Tradition is a word often associated with Harvard, the value of which I appreciate more every year. My classmates and teammates were unique in their talents, intelligence and insights. Their exceptional nature however, is shared with that of individuals from previous and subsequent classes.
Those I was able to spend time with and become friends with enriched my experience. Those I have been fortunate to stay in touch with over the years continue to enrich my life and remind me of how proud I am to be part of this community.