In a match so close it was cruel, the Harvard women’s volleyball team fell 3-2 (20-30, 30-28, 30-20, 28-30, 15-13) to Yale in the first round of a single-elimination, four-team playoff to decide the recipient of the league’s automatic NCAA post-season bid in Schenectady, N.Y. on Saturday.
After the Crimson forced the tiebreak with a 30-28 win in game four, Harvard appeared poised to maintain its momentum.
The Crimson rallied to leads of 11-9 and 13-12, before Yale won three-straight points to seal the match and advance to the champioinship game against the Big Red.
“We were very evenly matched,” co-captain Kaego Ogbechie said. “When it comes down to just three points in the fifth game, it’s just pretty much where the ball falls, not who is outdigging who. Yale got the ball to fall where they needed it to, when they needed it.”
Four teams—Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Cornell—qualified for the Ivy mini-tournament by finishing with identical 10-4 league records. The Bulldogs topped Cornell 3-2 in the championship game to claim the berth yesterday.
Harvard—who was swept by Yale in the team’s last meeting in New Haven on Nov. 6—stormed out of the gates to take the 1-0 lead, cruising to victory in the first game 30-20.
Playing in the nearly-empty, neutral site arena of Union College, the Bulldogs took a while to warm up.
“I think we just knew what to expect this time,” co-captain Kim Gould said. “And it was a lot more difficult to play in their place, because it was their senior night and they had such a large crowd. [At Union] there wasn’t really anyone there, and it was much more about creating your own momentum.”
“Regardless of anything technical or logistical,” she said, “we just came out with the attitude to win.”
The Crimson then kept that momentum going into the second, building a 24-15 lead to open game two, and the match seemed about to turn into a blowout.
But the Bulldogs mounted a furious rally, taking 11 of the next 13 points to pull the score to 26-26. After alternating points until the score reached 28-27 in favor of Harvard, Yale took the final three points consecutively to tie the match at 1-1. The Bulldogs went on to take the next game 30-20 to take a 2-1 lead.
“I think we got a litte complacent with what we were trying to do,” Gould said.
The Crimson battled back to win game four, however, overcoming a late 27-25 deficit to take the frame 30-28 and force the tiebreak.
For the Crimson, it would have been the first NCAA Tournament appearance in the program’s history.
Instead, it was the final game for the team’s three seniors—Gould, Ogbechie and Nilly Schweitzer, arguably the most heralded recruiting class in Harvard history.
“It was really funny, actually,” Gould said. “It didn’t really hit me until after we had slapped hands with the other team that this was it. Nilly, Kaego and I kind of all came together after that, and it was a little emotional...but during the game, I don’t think anyone was thinking about it.”
The day after Ogbechie was named Ivy Player of the Year for the second time in her career, she showed why.
Ogbechie racked up a team-high 21 kills with ruthless efficiency—finishing the day with a .405 hitting percentage—and tossed in 12 digs to complete the double-double.
Ogbechie, who also was named Ivy Player of the Year in 2002, became the first two-time winner of the award in Harvard history.
Schweitzer chipped in a double-double of her own (13 kills, 17 digs) as did the newly-crowned Ivy Rookie of the Year Laura Mahon (17 kills, 17 digs). Schweitzer had been named to the All-Ivy second-team the day before.
Yale was led by Shannon Farrell, who posted a match-high 23 kills.
“I thought our players played with a lot of heart tonight,” said Yale coach Erin Appleman. “We started out flat, but were able to come back because we believed in each other and had a lot of heart.”
—Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.