Facing virtual elimination from the playoff picture, the Harvard men's volleyball team found its form at the most crucial of times this weekend.
The Crimson (7-5, 3-4 Hay) swept its series, edging East Stroudsburg 3-2 (25-30, 24-30, 33-31, 30-21, 15-7) on Saturday afternoon and crushing Queens 3-0 (30-25, 30-27, 30-26) yesterday at the Malkin Athletic Center.
Harvard was in dire straits on Saturday against the Warriors (6-6, 4-5), trailing 2-0 and facing match point in the third game. A loss would have meant a four game deficit to the leaders with only six conference games to go.
The Crimson staved off match point, however, then raised its game to another level, dominating the rest of the match to pull off the thrilling five game victory.
With the sweep of two divisional opponents, Harvard currently stands in fourth place in the Hay Division, three games back in the loss column of the co-leaders, NYU and St. Francis. The top two teams in the division advance to the conference tournament.
The Crimson was sparked by the return of the nation's leader in hitting percentage, freshman middle blocker Juan Carlos Cardet. Cardet had missed Harvard's previous four games wih a sprained ankle.
Harvard 3, Queens 0
Harvard easily swept past hapless Queens in a 3-0 rout yesterday afternoon at the MAC, moving into a tie with Vassar in the divisional standings.
"Queens has one or two good players, but overall they are siginifcantly weaker than the rest of the division," said Harvard Coach Tom Wilson.
Led by senior outside hitter Brian Stevenson and junior co-captain Justin Denham, the Crimson jumped out to an 8-3 lead in the first game.
With Cardet back in the middle, Queens was unable to penetrate the suddenly formidable Crimson block, and the Knights wilted under the weight of multiple errors.
Harvard never trailed in the game and easliy won 30-25.
The Knights jumped to the early 17-9 lead in the second game behind the play of outside hitter Maxime Auguste, who had four kills during the run.
But Queens failed to consitently provide an answer for the dominant play of Stevenson and Cardet. Cardet had three kills and two blocks, and Stevenson recorded six kills to catalyze a 21-10 Harvard run.
The Crimson proceeded to close out the game 30-27.
The majority of the final game was closely contested, and both teams were tied at 25-25 after 50 points.
Kills by Denham and Stevenson coupled with three Knight errors quickly brought the third game to an end with the Crimson on top, 30-26.
Harvard 3, East Stroudsburg 2
"We really kept up our block throughout the match," Wilson said. "With [sophomore middle blocker Alex] Kowell and Cardet up front, we were able to keep two guys in front of the hitter all night."
The Crimson dropped the first two games of the match and appeared headed for this season's second defeat at the hands of East Stroudsburg.
Harvard trailed for most of the third game as well, including deficits of 20-15 and 27-24. The Crimson managed to fight back and extend the match to 32 points, but the Warriors had game point at 31-30.
Cardet then proceeded to make the biggest play of his season, and perhaps the team's season, with East Stroudsburg at game point.
Harvard returned the Warriors' serve, and the Warriors set up for the match-clinching kill.
Cardet, following the play all the way, reponded with a resounding block on outside hitter Jason Hartzel that tied the game at 31-31 and energized the crowd.
The Warriors hit the next two balls into the net to give the Crimson the 33-31 third game win.
Denham dictated the Harvard offense in the fourth game, recording seven kills in the game to give the Crimson a 24-19 lead and eventually the convincing 30-21 win.
East Stroudsburg, blitzed by the surprising Harvard run, faltered in the crucial fifth game.
Stevenson started the game strongly for the Crimson, recording four kills to give Harvard the 4-1 lead. Kowell continued the attack with two kills and a block that increased the advantage to 8-2.
Denham added two more kills and a couple of tips to end the fifth game 15-7 and complete the remarkable come-from-behind victory.
The Crimson's next game is Wednesday at Roger Williams. Harvard returns to conference play against Vassar on Saturday.