Harvard returned confidently from its weekend jaunt to Princeton despite being swept, 3-0 (30-23, 30-20, 30-26), at the Dillon Gymnasium on Sunday.
“The team is upbeat despite our losing streak,” junior co-captain Mike Bookman said. “We know that we’ve had some injuries that set us back, but we’re excited at the prospects of returning to divisional play with that rough yet educative experience of last week behind us.”
The Crimson (2-2, 1-1 Hay) did not play its best volleyball against Prince-ton, but are coming together as a team. The return of senior Justin Denham and freshman Will Reppun has energized Harvard going into its next match, a league contest against Springfield tomorrow.
The sweep at Princeton was due in large part to Harvard’s mediocre play, but Bookman credited the Tigers with playing a flawless match.
“Princeton is a very good team. We needed to be on top of our game to beat them,” said Bookman. “And we just didn’t bring our ‘A’ game. That’s not to say that we didn’t play well.”
There were bright spots for the Crimson, especially the play of its returning starters.
Reppun energized the team by playing through pain on Sunday. There was a moment in the match where he seemed to hurt his ankle, but he stuck it out and stayed in the game.
“He didn’t get a lot of sets but he sucked up a lot of pain to be out there on the court on Sunday,” said Bookman of Reppun’s efforts.
Denham, who returned to record 41 attempts in a three-set match, led Harvard on offense. The senior middle blocker had not seen the court in a week and a half. His sciatic nerve gave him problems, and Friday was his first practice.
Denham did not miss a beat. He recorded a team-high 17 kills in the match.
“I was just really excited to get back on the court,” Denham said. “I was somewhat surprised by my play. I did not expect to play as well as I did.”
The Crimson’s effort was typified by sloppy play. They committed unforced errors, made poor passes, and did not effectively end rallies.
“It was a lot of broken plays. We just didn’t seem to terminate rallies,” said Denham.
The Princeton offense did not make things easy for Harvard. The Tigers repeatedly put the ball past Harvard blockers, forcing the Crimson to defend more than it would have liked to.
“We made 15 service errors and only scored three aces,” Bookman said. “That’s not an acceptable ratio. Other than the errors we made, the big difference might be in the defensive effort. They outdug us almost two to one.”
Bookman led the team, along with freshman Juan Ramos, with six digs to chip in on the defensive effort.
The nondivisional match does not hurt the Crimson in the Hay standings. The Crimson looks toward Springfield at the MAC tomorrow to test its progress as a unit.
“We’re really close to where we want to be as a team,” said Denham. “We practiced well today, and hopefully things will come together for us on Wednesday.”