Back For More: After an impressive Freshman year at Harvard, Harry Walker (far top right) shares how his rich experiences at King paved the way for his first year of college and the chance to shine with Crimson Tennis
By Wendell Maxey, King Sports Information and Social Media Liaison
Four years can fly by in the blink of an eye, like a powerful tennis serve that comes at you fast and furious. Just ask Harry Walker. Last year at this time, Walker was busy preparing for the next chapter of his life that included making the three-hour drive north to Cambridge where a full course load and training for the Fall tennis season awaited the eager Freshman.
New campus. New classes. New tennis squad. A new opportunity to take his game to the next level by building upon the foundation he laid in Stamford at King School. Walker brought with him to Harvard University a remarkable talent for excelling in academics and athletics -- the same exact characteristics that helped him shine on the court and in the classroom during his time playing for head coach Tom Carey and the Vikings.
Walker's tennis resume at King speaks volumes about his dedication and determination.
A five-year letter winner and team captain during his Senior year (despite missing the entire season due to injury), he became a three-time MVP, won the Fairfield Athletic Association Individual title, reached a career-high TennisRecruiting.net ranking of No. 10, ranked No. 1 in both the U18 and U16 division of USTA National singles standings, and was awarded the Class Prize in History as a Junior and Senior year. The hard work paid off for Walker, who began playing tennis at King in Middle School. The South Salem, New York native followed up his stellar high school tennis at King with a smashing Freshman season for the Crimson. Walker finished the 2018-2019 season with a team-leading 29-8 singles record, including a 19-5 mark in dual action at the No. 2-4 positions and recorded a 6-1 mark against conference opponents. By the end of the year, he was drawing sports page headlines and being pegged as a dominant young player after posting an 18-3 overall doubles record and registering 17-consecutive wins during the Fall and Spring seasons.
Impressive. All this after previously enduring two hip surgeries and a full-year off from tennis heading into his Senior campaign at King.
Prior to opening Harvard's Fall campaign at the Napa Invite at Cal Berkley (September 13-15), Harry Walker shared how his experience at King shaped who he is today, his keys to juggling life as a student-athlete in college, and his focused approach to a big year back on the court for the Crimson.
Always A Viking: Despite missing his Senior year of tennis at King, Harry Walker emerged as a natural leader as a Freshman at Harvard where he compiled a team-leading 29-8 singles record last season
Before we talk about your upcoming Sophomore season, congratulations on officially completing your first year at Harvard and playing tennis for the Crimson. What do you think you will take away the most from that experience?
I had a great Freshman year at Harvard. Some of the things I will take away is how fortunate I was to be on the team last year. I think that having those guys as a core group of friends to hang out off the court and battling with them on the court was so much fun for all of us. Harvard can be a stressful environment, and having the upperclassmen answer questions and looking after the Freshman was so helpful.
Can you share about your mindset heading into last season in the Fall and Spring and some ways where you felt you grew as a college player?
Last Fall, I was in a weird place because I was just coming off two hip surgeries and a full year off from tennis. I was sad to miss my last King season, and I didn't really get to play that much in the summer. I went to school out of shape and not having played a set in over a year, I was focused on myself and trying to prove myself as a potential starter and getting frustrated when I did not make the progress I wanted. Early in the Fall at Harvard, the captains sat the Freshman down and told us that while tennis is an individual sport, college tennis is a true team sport. Everyone has a role, and if that is not playing on the line-up then so be it. It is so hard to adjust from Junior tennis where everything is about yourself and then all of a sudden you may not play. That reality made me grow up a lot, and it made me feel that much more fortunate to have a spot on the lineup in the Spring. Gamewise, I quickly got a lot stronger from the weight training we did, and my coach had me going into the net a lot and trying to get me to play more aggressive.
How would you describe making the jump to playing at a college level? How did King help equip and/or prepare you for playing at Harvard and college athletics?
Playing at the collegiate level is completely different, mostly because of the pressure that is put on you to represent your school and the physicality of the game increases so much. The people you play are full-grown men now and are no longer just kids. I think King Tennis and Coach (Tom) Carey did a great job preparing me for the team aspect of Tennis as well as driving home the fact that we are representing King. Coach Carey also really emphasized sportsmanship, which is a rare commodity in college tennis.
If someone would have told you before the season started that you would lead the team with a singles record of 29-8 (and an equally impressive 18-3 doubles record), what would you have thought? Those are some impressive numbers...
I think I would not have believed someone who told me that! Especially because I had so many doubts about my injury. In retrospect, I am not surprised because I was able to improve so much during the year, especially my serve, volleys, and doubles, but I had a lot of doubts before the Spring. For a while, I thought I would not play at all, but I am just thankful that the coaches gave me a chance to represent the school and the team that much.
Despite the injuries and setbacks, you put together a memorable high school career at King...what are some things you learned from Coach Carey that has stuck with you and impacted you the most? Are there still things you draw from now at Harvard?
It feels like a long time since I started playing tennis for King in 8th grade. One thing that has always stuck with me is how Coach Carey made sure the upperclassmen welcomed me as an 8th grader. Not everyone would be happy about adding someone so young and not even in high school, but everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and happy to improve our chances of winning. That culture was facilitated by Coach Carey and it made me feel like a part of the team right away.
For those student-athletes in the Upper School interested in playing college athletics, what words of advice would you give to them about the realities of juggling academics and athletics?
The first advice I would give to prospective college athletes is to be realistic. Go to a place where you can make a big impact on the field, court, etc, but also provides a balance with academics and social life. Be realistic because college athletics is basically a full-time commitment, so know what you are getting into when talking with these schools. Another thing I would advise is to go to a school that is right for you academically. I see lots of student-athletes at Harvard who are completely drowning in homework because they were not prepared and because of the demands of the team. When this happens, both academics and athletics suffer which can become a disaster. Go to a place where you will thrive academically and with your sport because being happy is far more important than anything else. Also, use the academic help available to you. Often times, schools have help for student-athletes, but they just do not know where to find it.
Heading into this year and season, what are some areas you focused on this offseason to help you grow and get better?
This offseason I worked hard in the weight room to get stronger. That will help my game more than anything else. I am also continuing to work on my movement, volleys, and serve. I worked in the city for the first part of the summer, but for the rest of summer I would play tennis early and go to the gym, and maybe play golf in the afternoon because I really want to get better!