Emotions could not have run higher for the Harvard women’s volleyball team on Saturday afternoon at the Malkin Athletic Center. Not only was it the Crimson’s final home match of the season and Senior Night, but the opponent was Ivy rival Yale.
But Harvard (8-14, 7-5 Ivy) suffered a heartbreaking 3-1 (21-30, 30-20, 30-22, 30-28) loss to the Bulldogs (14-8, 6-5), a result that came on the heels of a three-game sweep of Brown on Friday night.
In her final home match, co-captain outside hitter Allison Bendush set a school record for digs in a single match with 35 in the Crimson’s four-game thriller against Yale.
“I’ve had a great four years,” Bendush said. “I’ll miss my team. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most: the girls on the team probably.”
Harvard closes out the season next weekend as it travels to Princeton and Penn, looking to avenge earlier losses from earlier in the season.
Yale 3, Harvard 1
The Crimson came out strong on Saturday, but could never recover from its disappointing performance in the middle two games, finally falling in four despite a dramatic effort in the final game.
As the fourth game drew to a close, Harvard faced a 24-29 sudden-death situation. A kill by junior outside hitter Nilly Schweitzer gave the Crimson a side-out. Schweitzer added two more kills to pull Harvard within three.
“They were the five most exciting points I’ve seen them play this year,” assistant coach Mindy Jellin ’03 said. “People did things I’ve never seen them do.”
One of those people was co-captain and middle hitter Mariah Pospisil, who dug several hard Bulldog hits to keep the points alive.
At 27-29, junior setter Kim Gould tipped the ball over the block after a long rally to pull the Crimson within just one.
After Yale spent a timeout, Pospisil served it deep into the Bulldogs’ court, before the ball was slammed right back. Senior outside hitter Nathalie Miller popped it up to Gould, who set Schweitzer. But Yale dug the line shot and sent it across the net to Harvard once more. Pospisil had a save of her own, though, and Schweitzer got to swing again.
Amazingly, the Bulldogs got the ball back into play, and the teams continued to rally.
Some members of the crowd were on their feet as the point continued. The gasps and sighs signaled one of the most active crowds to see the volleyball team in action this year.
But in the end, Yale middle hitter Renee Lopes hit over the block into the deep corner, just out of reach of the diving Pospisil to steal the game and match.
“I wanted to leave everything out on the court,” Pospisil said. “I knew it was going to be my last time on this court, and I wanted to leave it all.”
These phenomenal last five points made the home-court farewell loss a little easier for the seniors.
“In those last five points, we were playing out hearts out,” Miller said. “You can’t come away upset. At least we lost fighting instead of folding.”
Senior outside hitter Amy Dildine echoed Miller’s sentiment.
“We fought really hard at the end,” Dildine said. “It felt great to get those last couple points.”
The Bulldogs took the lead early in the fourth game, but Yale’s advantage was short-lived as the teams were tied six times. The Crimson even took the lead late in the game on a kill by Schweitzer but was unable to hold on.
Schweitzer had seven kills in the crucial game, and a match-high 18 kills for the night.
The match started with a few emotional words about each of the seniors as they were met by their parents at the net to celebrate their final home appearances.
In the first game, Harvard came out energized, running all over the Bulldogs. The Crimson led from start to finish, winning with the largest margin of the game, 30-21.
“It started off really sad because we did the senior ceremony, and some of the parents were a little teary,” Miller said. “Once that was over, we just were really excited to play.”
Miller had six kills with a hitting percentage of .600 in the first game. She also added an ace.
Bendush played excellent defense, passing bull’s eyes to the setter, paving the way to a .316 hitting in the game and set the school record in digs in a match in spite of playing only four out of a possible five games.
However, Harvard’s dominance in the first game yielded to the uncertainty that plagued the squad in the next two sets.
“I think Yale picked it up in the second game,” Harvard coach Jennifer Weiss said. “Their blocking was a little more established, and our ball control was less in the second game.”
The Crimson led early in the second game, but could not break away. With two consecutive kills followed by an ace, the Bulldogs knotted the contest at seven. The teams battled back and forth, but the Crimson had a hard time handling Yale’s serves and hits, and the Bulldogs took a commanding 26-19 lead before eventually coasting to a 30-20 victory, evening the match at 1-1.
“Our energy dropped a little in the second game,” Jellin said. “We lost our momentum.”
The Crimson could not get the momentum back at all in the third game as Yale jumped out to 9-5 lead and never looked back, running away with the game 30-22.
Harvard 3, Brown 0
The Crimson had a nose for victory in its three-game sweep of the Bears, taking each game of the match (30-28, 31-29, 31-29) by a two-point margin.
A kill by Schweitzer followed by a wide lob by Brown outside hitter Elvina Kung allowed the Crimson to escape the third and final game 31-29.
“We definitely had a lot of pressure on us to finish each game,” Gould said. “We did not want to have to play another one.”
Brown bolted to a 10-3 lead in the third behind four kills from freshman outside hitter Rikki Baldwin. As soon as Baldwin left the Bears’ rotation, Harvard rallied to bring the score even at 13. Baldwin returned later in game three to tally five more kills, but the Crimson had enough answers to pull out the victory.
“She was just hanging up there,” Weiss said. “Our block went up and came back down, and then she hit.”
Harvard stumbled out of the gate in the second frame as well, finding itself in an early 7-3 hole. The Crimson captured 13 of the next 16 points—five coming on Brown miscues—to seize control of the match, 16-10.
The Bears fought back to close the gap to two, 29-27. Brown staved off two game points to knot the game at 29. After a Harvard timeout, Crimson freshman middle hitter Katie Turley-Molony registered a kill and Pospisil and Miller combined on a block to seal the 31-29 win.
The early portion of the first game was marked by both teams’ uncharacteristically sloppy play. The teams combined for more missed serves than kills through the first 21 points of the game.
“We’ve had a history of slow first games,” Gould said. “The main thing in the first game was the passing. Our passing was a little off until we figured out what they were doing and we made some improvements from there.”
Harvard seemed to find its offensive flow first, jumping out to a 17-10 lead. Brown chipped away, pulling to within three, 29-26. The Bears got two timely kills from Baldwin to close the gap to one, before Miller gave the Crimson the game one victory with an emphatic kill.
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.