Until this past weekend, the string of honors that the Harvard men's volleyball team was collecting knew no bounds.
First place in tournaments at MIT and Vassar. Decisive 3-0 blankings of MIT, Brown, Dartmouth (twice) and Yale.
And a 3-1 win over Springfield, marking the emergence of an NCAA berth.
So after another easy shutout against SUNY-New Paltz on Saturday, the Crimson welcomed its biggest test of the year--a Sunday twin-bill against Eastern powerhouses Navy and Princeton--with open arms.
The results, though, were mixed.
Harvard added one big feather to its cap--a 3-2 comeback win over the Tigers--but also got its wings clipped by a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Midshipmen.
"We played totally different games against Princeton and Navy," senior Per Dutton said in the wake of the Crimson's first loss since a December warmup tourney at the University of Rhode Island.
"We came out really flat against Navy; we were never in our game, and they handled us too easily. But although we had our up-and-down moments against Princeton, we came back and finally played like we know how," he said.
Freshman Pete Buletz attributed some of the flatness of the Navy loss to the ease with which Harvard dispatched New Paltz in what was supposed to be a tune-up for the big Sunday doubleheader.
"We counted on getting back on our game against New Paltz, but that never really happened," Buletza said. "We didn't play so well, and it carried over into Sunday."
Still, Navy--currently counted among the top five teams in the Eastern rankings--barely outplayed the Crimson. The Midshipmen only won 15-13, 15-8, 15-11.
"Sometimes, we tend to worry more about the team we're playing against rather than worrying about our own game," Buletza said. "Coach [Ihsan Guidal] really though that was the case [against Navy]."
But paced by the emergence of a outside blocker Brian Jones, Harvard received its wake-up call just in the nick of time. It rallied from 2-1 down to take the last two games, and the deciding rally game went to the Crimson, 15-9.
Perhaps an outside power--one emanating from the Tiger bench--helped prevent Harvard from an 0-6 anti-sweep. After a tight game-one loss, Princeton sent in all of its subs; predictably, they were hammered in game two, and the Crimson finally had some momentum.
"Personally, it's move that I didn't understand," said Buletza. "Maybe they thought we weren't that good, but it certainly backfired on them."
And after swapping games three and four, some positive Harvard tactics turned the rally game around. With a really small Tiger middle blocker in one rotation, the combination of Jones-to-Dutton proved to be unstoppable, and for the first time since 1985, Harvard had beaten their New Jersey rivals.
THE NOTEBOOK: Today's game against Springfield could cement the Crimson's invitation to the NCAA dance. One week ago, Harvard won in four games.
"It's huge game for us," Dutton said. "Not only would a win legitimize beating them the first time, but it would also prove that we're worthy of being in the NCAA's."
"We had a really tough practice today--Coach kept telling us that what happened at Princeton doesn't matter," Buletza said yesterday. "We worked a lot on our transition defense; when we win, we play well."