A rusty Harvard men's volleyball team yesterday defeated Springfield, 3-0, for the second time this season to capture its third straight New England Championship.
The victory upped the Crimson's record to 25-1, 10-0 at the conclusion of division play. Runner-up Springfield finished with an 8-2 division mark. As division champion, Harvard will host the NCAA regional tournament April 16. The winner of that competition will receive a berth in the East's final four. Harvard has never gotten such a berth.
But if the spikers are to make it that far, they'll have to start better than they did last night Slow and unorganized after the spring break, the spikers just withstood a fierce Springfield challenge in the first game of the best-of-five contest, and actually had to come from behind in order to duplicate away from home the feat they accomplished at the IAB on March 10.
"We came out really slow, almost as if in a coma," senior Captain Brad Martin said. "It seemed that spring break had made a difference for us."
Also lingering in the back of the players' minds may have been the thought of playing without injured senior Mark Chang, who has provided the Crimson with effective outside spiking all season.
However, according to Martin and Coach Ihsan Gurdal, Chang's replacement, junior David Perkel, did a more than adequate job, coming off the bench to help keep the spikers' untarnished league record intact.
Nevertheless, Springfield dominated the contest in the early going and built an early five-point edge. Springfield stretched its advantage to seven points, coming within a point of taking the first game, 14-7.
But Gurdal called a time-out to remind the Crimson of their superior abilities. "Ihsan told us that we could take them and that we had to toughen up." Martin recalled. "We were beating ourselves. We just had to force them."
The squad turned the game around, scoring nine unanswered points to capture, the first stanza, 16-14.
As the defense tightened up, sophomore Mohan Nadkami sparked the Crimson rally with scintillating inside spiking. "Mohan had one of his best matches, and we kept going back to him," Martin explained, "Once we started hitting, everything else fell in place." Martin explained.
The captain also credited Perkel's serving and sophomore Terry Martin's setting. On a night when many players "had mental lapses, Terry was very consistent, and he had one of his best matches," the elder Martin brother said.
By the second and third games the spikers had regained their winning from, usurping control to triumph in both contests, 15-10 and 15-8, respectively.
But the match was probably decided in the first game. As Martin remarked, "that [the comeback] kind of broke their backs."
Martin emphasized the fact that as defending champions the Crimson had high expectations coming into the season. "We haven't done anything more this season than in others. Coming as defending champions makes you look forward" to garnering even more post-season honors, he said.