With thirteen consecutive Inter-Academic League titles, the tennis team has had a history of success. Led by Sixth Form Captains Neil Sawhney and Jay Crowther, the 2023 season—in which the team finished with a record of 14-1 and tied for the Inter-Ac title—was no exception.
Still, the success did not come easily. With a young team filled with freshmen and sophomores playing on the varsity level, team chemistry and experience had to be developed throughout the season.
“We have a lot of younger guys,” Sawhney said. “The freshman class at tennis is really big and the sophomore class is pretty big—not many juniors—so it’s been a young team.”
With such a young group of players, the team initially struggled maintaining a mature and respectful environment.
“[The team culture] started off a little poor, to put it bluntly. ” Sawhney said. “The team’s culture and attitude just had a problem with being respectful.”
Crowther echoed that sentiment.
“We had lots of young talent, but the problem was that they weren’t acclimated to team culture, so there was a disconnect,” Crowther said. “At the beginning of the season, everyone was super competitive with one another. Everyone was trying to figure out how to beat one another, instead of how to beat the other team.”
Part of the upperclassmen’s frustration comes from the fact that the tennis team has always radiated a positive, supportive environment, and the Sixth Formers have remembered that throughout all four of their years.
“The community of the tennis team represents exactly what Haverford tries to be at its core: instilling the values of brotherhood and support.”Jay Crowther ’23
“The community of the tennis team represents exactly what Haverford tries to be at its core: instilling the values of brotherhood and support,” Crowther said. “It’s really cool to have 20 guys on the varsity level and everyone has their backs. Everyone loves spending time with one another and it feels like a family, and it feels really nice.”
With the season on the line, the Sixth Formers knew that they had to set an example. They made a commitment to fostering a supportive and positive environment.
“The seniors as a whole, not just the captains, had to step up and drill the mentality in,” Sawhney said. “Because when we’re gone, that’s our legacy that we’re leaving behind. I think it’s been about passing the torch and [creating] a good team mindset.”
The senior class brought an experience hard to replicate, with some of the seniors having played on varsity since they were Third or even Second Formers.
“When I played in eighth grade, 13 or 14 years old, being around all these giants, was terrifying,” Crowther said. “But coming full circle and being that senior was one of those big moments. It felt really cool to go from younger brother to older brother.”
As the season progressed, and matches began, some of the problems began to resolve themselves. Not only did the team chemistry improve, but the team found more success in practice.
“Everyone started playing better, not just in games, but in practice as well,” Crowther said. “Obviously, comparing the first matches we played to the last, there was a huge improvement.”
Early on, the team found steady success. Building off the momentum of being 3-0, the team beat its biggest competition for the season.
“When we beat [Germantown Academy] on the road, 5-2, that was a huge moral victory for us.”Jay Crowther ’23
“When we beat [Germantown Academy] on the road, 5-2, that was a huge moral victory for us,” Crowther said. “That gave us a chance to win the Inter-Ac since we could beat them at home [the] next time we played them, but we kind of let our guard down, and ended up losing. That forced us to reset going into the final and helped us realize that as good as we are, we’re still human.”
Although the team finished the season sharing the Inter-Ac title, the season stands as a success. And with such a young group of athletes, the future of Fords’ tennis looks strong.
“To think that the top-four players after me are all freshman and sophomores—that feels great,” Crowther said. “Even though the team loses me next year, I think most of the talent is retained. We have an equal amount of freshmen and sophomores that are just as talented as the seniors.”
The underclassmen are ready for the challenge.
Fifth Former Nolan McCloskey said, “To fill the gap that they left, I think everybody just has to use what they taught us and take a step up.”
As for what they aim to achieve next season, along with winning another Inter-Ac title and an undefeated season are the hopes of building a supportive and positive environment, just as the seniors before them have tried to develop.
“The tennis team certainly has a culture of winning, and [we] of course aim to continue that. There are so many talented players on the team, not even taking into account the incoming freshman, so I believe we’ll have another great, winning season,” McCloskey said. “One big goal I would like to see accomplished is a positive and respectful team atmosphere [we] have to create by fostering that positivity and calling out negative events, but I’m also confident that every single guy on the team can contribute towards a great team culture.”