Volleyball is a "groove" sport. You're either in one or you're out of one; there's rarely a middle ground.
Harvard's women's volleyball team (3-4 Ivy, 11-15 overall) learned that lesson the hard way this weekend at the Harvard Invitational. After breezing through its first three games in the tournament, the squad found itself with a 1-0 lead over league nemesis Brown (3-4 Ivy, 8-16 overall), in semi-final action. It then proceeded to drop three of its next four games to lose the match, 3-2.
"I think we were pretty pleased with our effort in the tournament as a whole, with the exception of the Brown game," co-captain Judy Iriye said. "That was a little disappointing."
Disappointing indeed. The Bears have been a thorn in the Crimson's side all season. Although the two teams are tied for fourth in Ivy League, Harvard went into the weekend 0-2 on the season against Brown, losing 3-1, on September 24, and 3-2 on October 28.
Sunday's game looked in the beginning to be different. The Crimson breezed through the first game, 15-9, and was up 11-2 in the second. It looked like nothing could stop it.
"We were confident--we had played well in the first round and we seemed strong on Sunday," Iriye said. "Then, all of a sudden, we lost it."
Brown got mad. Brown got the ball. Brown got busy.
The Bears scored 13 points in a row to win the second game, 15-11. It then took the third, 15-11, and, after Harvard won the fourth, 15-9, the fifth, 15-13.
The Bears advanced to the final round game against unbeatable, league-leading Princeton (7-0 league, 21-4 overall), which it lost, 3-1. The Crimson was eliminated from the tournament.
"Volleyball is such a mental game," Iriye said. "Our loss was about getting down and losing the momentum. It was really frustrating, particularly after doing so well early on in the tournament."
The tournament was divided up into two groups of teams, Pool A and Pool B. The Crimson were put into Pool A along with Vermont, Wagner and Dartmouth. Pool B consisted of Princeton, Vermont and Brown.
The top two teams from Pool A and the top two teams from Pool B were then determined by round-robin, intra-pool play on Saturday and early Sunday. Those four teams then advanced to the semi-final round on Sunday, while the third-place teams in each pool played in a consolation game. The winners of the semifinal games then advanced to the final later that day.
The Crimson started off the tourney hot. Placed into the weaker of the two pools, it blew through its round-robin competition. In its first three matches, it didn't drop a game.
In the first match, it thrashed Vermont, 3-0, winning the first game 15-6; the second, 15-8; and the third, 15-9. In the second match, it manhandled a 2-16 Dartmouth team (0-7 Ivy), 15-0, 15-6, 15-8. And in the third match, it polished off Wagner in three straight games, 15-0, 16-14, 15-12.
Meanwhile, Vermont dusted off Wagner, 3-0, and Dartmouth, 3-1 to garner the other Pool A spot in the finals.
"Our competition in the first round wasn't too strong," freshman Elissa Hart said. "We didn't have much of a problem with any of the teams we played."
"They weren't very strong," Iriye said. "But there is always the danger that you will have a lapse against those types of teams. Luckily, we didn't do that."
While Pool A competition was under way, Princeton and Brown were locking up their semifinal spots in Pool B. Princeton proved the class of the pool, beating Hartford, 3-1, and the Bears, 3-0. Brown then proved second-best with a 3-0 thrashing of Hartford.
While Hartford demolished Dartmouth in the consolation game on Sunday, 3-0, Harvard, Princeton, Brown and Vermont advanced to semi-final action. In that round, Princeton breezed over Vermont, 3-0, while the Crimson met their doom against Brown.
The squad will be in action next weekend at the Ivy League Tournament.