Tonight and tomorrow will tell a lot about the Harvard women's volleyball team.
The Crimson (11-6 overall, 1-2 Ivy) will battle defending Ivy champion Penn tonight and Dartmouth and Ivy-runner up Princeton tomorrow at the Malkin Athletic Center.
Although the matches against the Quakers (12-7, 3-0) and Tigers (14-6, 1-1) won't make or break the team's season--the Ivy titlist is determined in a post-season tournament--the Crimson will answer one important question: is it a pretender or a contender?
Even though both the Quakers and Tigers are heavy favorites, the spikers believe they can upset either of the Ivy League front-runners.
"If we're on our game, we can definitely beat both of them," Co-Captain Jodi Cassell said. "If we play like we did against Cornell [a 3-0 loss], we're going to get our tails kicked. We definitely have the talent, it's just a matter of experience."
After seven frustrating years as a club sport from 1973 to 1980, and five more disappointing seasons as a varsity team, the squad is off to its best start ever.
The Quakers will definitely give the Crimson its toughest match of the season. Penn hasn't lost a set against an Ivy team this year, and the list of victims includes Princeton, a 3-0 loser in late September.
Last year, the Quakers blew Harvard away, capturing an easy 15-3, 15-7, 15-3 victory at home. Penn--which returns five starters from last year's Ivy championship team--is led by freshman Kelly Smith, sophomore Melissa Ingalls and senior Alison Heaphy.
"I think we will give Penn and Princeton a good game," junior Susie Nemes said. "We can't let them intimidate us with their height."
"Harvard has a pretty decent record," Quaker coach Glen Nelson said. "But I would question the strength of the schedule. I haven't seen Harvard this year, but from last year's match, I could tell they weren't far away from being a contender."
The Taming of the Tiger
If it's true that adversity builds character, then after this weekend, the Crimson will have enough character to last the next 10 seasons.
Princeton routed the Crimson twice last season, recording straight set victories during the regular season and in the Ivy tournament.
The Tigers are led by sophomores Suzanne Huffman and Dana Wheeler, freshmen Kelly Sather and Loren Montgomery, and senior setter Ruth Heller.
"They are both definitely good teams," Co-Captain Maia Forman said. "And in order to do well, we have to compete with them at the net. Jodi has been blocking really well at the net and Perri Wallace has been coming along as a middle blocker."
You've Got To Be Kidding
Harvard's last match of the weekend--against Dartmouth--should be as one-sided as the football team's 42-3 rout of the Green last Saturday. The spikers trounced the Big Green in both meetings last year, including a 15-4, 15-6, 0-15, 15-7 decision at Dartmouth.
If the Crimson can simply play competitively against the Quakers and the Tigers, it will have a major confidence builder heading into the Ivy League tournament next month.
THE NOTEBOOK: The Crimson has recorded six shutouts this season....Forman has averaged over 18 assists against non-Ivy teams....After this weekend, the spikers will have only one more home match this season.