Akash Mirchandani and the Crimson competed at the Ivy League Match Play (Oct. 20-21) (Harvard Athletic Communications).
By Kevin Rhoads, Head Coach for Men's and Women's Golf
A New Coaching Structure
During the off-season, I transitioned from Head Women's Coach to being the Head Coach for both the men's and women's teams. It is a true honor having the opportunity to coach both teams. Although it has only been a couple of months, I have enjoyed every moment with both teams. It is fun to be a part of the successes. Equally invigorating are the learning opportunities created by each challenge we face together. I look forward to our time moving forward.
Among other factors making the transition possible was the hiring of two incredible Assistant Coaches. Given the coaching structure, having exactly the right personnel in the Assistant Coaches positions was an imperative. On the women's side, a confluence of favorable events allowed Claire Sheldon, '10 to come on as Assistant Coach. Among many other positive attributes, Claire was a 3-time All Ivy performer and team captain her senior year. On the men's side we have been fortunate to welcome Daniel Joseph. Daniel is an Assistant Professional at The Country Club who has also worked at Pebble Beach, Augusta National, and Oakmont Country Club. Given their talents and opportunities, we will be happy for whatever time we have their expertise, energy, enthusiasm, and influence.
One of the most fun coaching challenges every year is figuring out what each player needs to play, practice, and think his or her best, while at the same time bringing the team together as a group to try to accomplish our goals. This year's process has been unique given the number of new players – both new to Harvard and new to me. Unsurprisingly, the individuals on both teams are a true pleasure to coach. On both the men's and women's side I see a team chemistry that is as strong as any of the teams with which I have been associated. Each team has players that are diverse in their backgrounds and experiences, and genuinely value that quality in their teammates. They also have strong affection for one another and are committed to doing what they need to do to be successful. I'm excited about our prospects both this year and in the years to come.
The Men's Team
The men's team returned five players from last year's squad, and welcomed two new players. Last year the Crimson graduated stalwarts Mark Pollak and Tony Grillo – holders of the top four season scoring averages in team history. These are big shoes to fill. A young, strong, balanced and talented team has risen to the challenge. Junior captain Theo Lederhausen has provided thoughtful, inclusive leadership in addition to his strong game. Lederhausen, fellow juniors Seiji Liu and Kevin McCarthy, and sophomore Akash Mirchandani all played in every tournament in the fall for the men. As a sign of the depth of the team and talent level, junior Michael Lai and freshmen Un Cho and Rohan Ramnath also played in multiple tournaments. The balance means that teammates will push each other to keep working.
Competitively, the men had good stretches in every tournament that they played. In their first tournament, The McLaughlin hosted by St. John's, Harvard displayed a level indicative of how good they can be. They were tied for second in the 16-team field through the first round and even midway through the second round of the 36-hole first day. Some external challenges with waning daylight proved distracting through the second round, and they lost some ground to eventually finish 11th overall. During a weekend when the team was not quite at the top of their game, they finished 5th out of 11 teams at the MacDonald Cup hosted by Yale. It was a tournament that indicated progress at being able to score well no matter how well they are playing.
Individually . . . Liu had an impressive T-2nd finish at Yale shooting one-under for two rounds. Lederhausen T-26 at the McLaughlin, and Mirchandani T-32 at the Windon – both impressively strong fields. And at the Ivy Match Play we saw great focus at clutch times. Notably, Ramnath, after sitting out the first three events with an injured back, showed great promise going undefeated in three matches.
The Women's Team
The ladies picked up where they left off last year – and improved upon it. They faced two big challenges of the fall: a new dynamic where they shared their head coach with another team while assimilating a new assistant coach, and a team that only included 5 players. Instead of allowing external factors to prove detrimental, they embraced the challenges and turned them into strengths.
The women's team chose to look at the coaching change in a very positive light; they weren't losing their head coach but were gaining a great assistant coach. Then, the team size was reduced from an expected 8 players to only 5 players due to injuries, school demands, and changing priorities for upperclassmen. Given that most tournaments allow 5 players to represent their school, having only 5 players puts the present squad in a potentially precarious position. Again taking the mature approach and focusing on the positive, the team embraced the challenge.
The three upperclassmen include reigning Ivy Champion junior captain Bonnie Hu, and standout sophomores Tiffany Lim and Brenna Nelsen. This is as good a group of players and leaders as the team has seen. Thus, the two freshmen, Courtney Hooton and Christine Lin, have received a crash course in Harvard Women's Golf culture, and have become part of the closest team that I have coached at Harvard.
The team is also the strongest yet for the Harvard women's program. The fall results were as follows: 3rd at Yale, 2nd at Penn State, and T14 out of 17 at Stanford. Given that this team is accustomed to winning multiple events in both the fall and spring seasons, not winning a tournament could appear to be a poor showing. A closer look, however, shows the impressive level of the team's play. The two teams that beat Harvard at Yale were Nova Southeastern – current #1 team in the country for Division II, and Penn State, currently ranked #28 in the country for Division I. At Penn State, only Penn State beat Harvard. And at Stanford, Harvard tied with #40 University of Oregon, and beat #35 Texas and #45 Cal Berkeley in a field that contained 5 of the top 10-ranked teams and 8 of the top 20 teams in the country.
The Crimson finished the fall season ranked #46 in the country – its highest ranking in program history. They are ranked #12 in the East Region, also their highest ranking ever. Everyone on the team averaged below 76, and 4 of the 5 players averaged below 75. Their average drop score was 78.05 – the 15th lowest in the country. The team scoring average of 296 is more than 8 shots lower than their previous best team scoring average. Individually, Tiffany Lim had two top-8 finishes, Bonnie, Brenna and Christine finished as high as 11th at Yale and Penn State respectively, and Courtney finished 15th at Penn State. Most importantly, they just were solid in every tournament.
So the fall season was one of progress for both teams. Each team was able to assimilate new personnel and new cultural and performance elements. I'm looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish in the spring. Our fall and spring golf seasons allow for an extended "half-time" to reflect on the fall, make strategic tweaks and work hard to prepare for the spring. We intend to take advantage of this opportunity.
I would like to thank all of the Friends of Harvard Golf for their continued support that makes our pursuit of excellence possible. A note of thanks also goes out to parents of team members. Many of you were able to make it to tournaments this fall and we always love to see friendly faces on the road. We appreciate you taking the time, spending the money, and making the effort to come.
Hopefully you all saw the announcement that Fred Schernecker's tireless efforts to advance the program have been validated by an unprecedented act of generosity on the part of Paul M. Weissman, '52. Mr. Weissman along with his wife, Harriet, endowed the Director of Golf Position.
Best wishes for Happy Holidays and see you in the spring!