For most students, the end of May typically brings a feeling of accomplishment and relaxation, as most students have finished their finals and gone their separate ways for the summer. But for No. 38 nationally-ranked sophomore Henry von der Schulenburg, the end of May, and specifically this past week, was nothing short of exhilarating. After his No.14, and The Harvard Crimson’s 2021-2022 Team of the Year, squad fell in the second round of the Division I Men’s Tennis NCAA team tournament to No. 18 Stanford, von der Schulenburg traveled with No. 60 junior teammate Harry Walker to Champaign, Illinois to compete in the NCAA singles tournament. Von der Schulenburg and Walker led the way for Harvard this past year in the first two positions, and finished with 27-9 and 20-4 singles records, respectively. They were subsequently rewarded with tickets punched to the singles tournament and an opportunity to cement their spots among the best collegiate tennis players in the nation.
“The tournament was an awesome experience,” von der Schulenburg said. “It felt more like a pro tournament than a college tournament.”
In the first round of the tournament, the sophomore faced off against No. 59 Olivier Stewart of Illinois. Von der Schulenburg acknowledged that there were certainly some nerves going into the tournament, and this opening match, specifically, but he knew he’d have as good a shot as anyone to make a deep run in the tournament as long as he stuck to the fundamentals and stayed sharp. And stay sharp he did in the first match, as he cruised to a victory in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3.
“[Walker] won before me, which gave me a lot of confidence that both of us were ready for the challenge,” von der Schulenburg said. “Getting that first win is huge. You basically want to get the train rolling.”
Walker similarly dominated in the first round, with a 6-3, 6-2 upset victory over No. 47 Kody Pearson of the University of Tulsa. Walker and von der Schulenburg were the only two Ivy League players to advance to the round of 32 and the first Crimson players to advance to the second round of the singles tournament since formerly No. 34 Dennis Nguyen in 2015. Their work was far from over at this point, though, as the matchups for the round of 32 were now set: von der Schulenburg was to take on No. 12 Luc Fomba of TCU, while Walker drew the toughest matchup of all against No. 1 Daniel Rodrigues of South Carolina.
In the second round, von der Schulenburg once again found himself in front after the first set, 6-4, but he acknowledged that this match was a much tougher battle.
“I knew the second round was going to be tough because Fomba is a great player. He has a huge serve and big shots. But I knew that my game works well against him,” the sophomore explained. “Especially outdoors, my spin forehand into his one-handed backhand was a game changer. Obviously, I was nervous because I had one more match to win in order for me to make All-American status. But because I knew I had put in the work and that the coaches believed in me I stayed confident. He had set points to win the second set but it all worked out in the end and I was able to close out the match [in straight sets].”
Despite Fomba’s best efforts to come back, von der Schulenburg fended off his attacks to finish the match’s second set, 7-6, clinching All-American status, the first time the honor had been awarded to anyone on the team since Nguyen in 2014. It’s both a significant achievement for Harvard and a terrific way to solidify this season’s place in the team’s long history. While von der Schulenburg is incredibly proud of this individual achievement, he acknowledges that it would not have been possible without constant support from his teammates and coaches.
“The biggest thing about [becoming an All-American] is that people will look up at the banner and see that it’s possible to get there. Hopefully it can be an inspiration to the entire team,” von der Schulenburg said. “That being said, I could never have done it without every single member on the team. We push each other in practice and in matches and that’s the beauty of college tennis. We’ve all improved so much this year and achieved all of our goals that we set at the beginning of the season. Now it’s time to take this program to the next level.”
On the other court, Walker engaged in a fierce battle against Rodrigues in perhaps the biggest match of his collegiate career. After dropping the first set, 5-7, the junior fought back to tie things up after two sets with a solid 6-4 performance in the second frame. Eventually, Rodrigues capitalized on a few too many of Walker’s errors, taking the third set, 6-3, eliminating the junior from the tournament.
“[Walker] was the better player for most of the match. He had a couple of chances to win the match. But that’s why [Rodrigues] is so good because he never goes away,” von der Schulenburg said. “[Walker] can be really proud of himself because he worked so hard to get where he is now and he has so much more potential. I have no doubt that he’ll come back even stronger next year and take his game to the next level.”
In the round of 16, von der Schulenburg faced yet another stiff challenge in the name of No. 3 Adam Walton of Tennessee. Already having overachieved, according to the pre-tournament rankings, and in possession of one of the highest honors a collegiate player could attain, the sophomore was ready to test his ability to stick it out with the best in the country. In the first set, von der Schulenburg was edged out narrowly, 7-6. In the second set, von der Schulenburg held on for as long as he could but was unable to hold off Walton in the end, falling 3-6 and ending his spectacular run in the tournament.
“This match gave me a lot of confidence because I saw how close I am to the top and I just have to put in more work to get there,” von der Schulenburg said.
Von der Schulenburg’s defeat marked the official end of all collegiate tennis competition for the Crimson. Coming off a lost year during the pandemic, it was still a historic season for Harvard: an ECAC championship, top 15 national team ranking, Ivy League Championship, and berths in both the individual and team NCAA tournaments were just some of the many goals the Crimson had set for itself going into the year, and it achieved every single one of the them. And with only No.66 senior captain Brian Shi graduating, Harvard will return next year hungrier than ever to make waves in college tennis and build on their successes this year.
- Staff writer David Aley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.