Harvard came away with two solid victories this weekend—beating Southhampton 3-0 and Vassar 3-0—behind the strong play of freshman setter Dave Fitz.
Fitz—who is listed at 6’3 but is more likely closer to 6’0—has solidified the setter position for the Crimson and given a spark to many of his much taller teammates.
“Now that we have our setter situation under control with Dave Fitz, we’re really solid top to bottom, and we showed that this weekend,” Harvard coach Rob Keller said.
HARVARD 3, VASSAR 0
After disposing of winless Southhampton on Saturday afernoon, Harvard took on a slightly tougher opponent in Vassar (2-9, 1-7) on Sunday.
But the Crimson dominated the Brewers just as it had the Colonials and got its third straight victory, winning 3-0 (33-31, 30-15, 30-23).
The first game of the match was by far the most competitive. Harvard jumped out to an early 14-8 lead behind the strong play of Fitz and sophomore middle blocker John Freese.
But Vassar showed the same resolve it did last weekend—when it took the Crimson to five games before Harvard pulled out a victory—and didn’t fold quickly in this contest either. The Brewers battled back and tied the match at 26, forcing Keller to call a timeout and calm his team down.
The strategy worked, and the Crimson battled through the next few points, eventually puling out a 33-31 victory.
The final two games were not nearly as close. In the second game Harvard controlled the action throughout, causing Vassar coach Jonathan Penn to become increasingly agitated with his team. At one point, Penn actually walked out onto the court in between points and admonished his players for their inability to “put points away.”
Despite their coach’s urgings, the Brewers couldn’t rebound and dropped the game 30-15.
The third game followed suit—with the Crimson winning 30-23—and Harvard came away with a very enjoyable league victory.
“I’m elated,” Keller said. “Vassar’s been struggling this year but we’re such a rival with them you never know. They’re like a wounded animal. They’re the most dangerous when they’re down.”
Keller was especially pleased with the continued solid play of Fitz.
For his part, Fitz was just happy to come away with a win.
“We were pretty sure we could take Vassar, “ Fitz said. “And we just came in here and mopped the floor with them.”
HARVARD 3, SOUTHAMPTON 0
The Crimson defeated the Southampton Colonials on Saturday afternoon 3-0 (30-25, 30-14, 30-23) in a tune-up for Sunday’s crucial league match against rival Vassar.
Expecting to dominate the weaker Colonials, Harvard struggled early in the first game, and found itself tied at 15 with winless Southampton (0-10, 0-6). But after Keller called a timeout, the Crimson reeled off a 7-2 run to pull ahead—part of a larger 14-6 stretch that saw the squad extend its lead to 29-21—and never trailed for the rest of the match.
“We really needed to ratchet up our focus out there,” Keller said. “Had we been playing a team with better ability we would have been in a lot of trouble, and that’s what I tried to tell [the team].”
Harvard came out of the timeout with a new intensity and maintained its momentum through the second game, opening with a 9-2 run that extinguished the Colonials’ hopes of an upset.
In the third game, sophomore middle blocker Seamus McKiernan set the same aggressive tone early with a block and a kill for a quick 2-0 lead. A flurry of kills from McKiernan, sophomore middle blocker John Freese and junior outside hitter Will Reppun—along with three aces from Harvard servers in the final game—helped the Crimson cruise to an easy victory.
“We played well in spurts, but we wanted to play well the whole time,” said Fitz, who started and led the team in assists for the third straight match. “We took this team for granted, and they weren’t good enough where that made a difference, but we were looking ahead to Vassar. We wanted to use this as a practice warm-up.”
The difference in ability between Southampton and Harvard was clear.
“Playing teams that aren’t as talented is always tougher because it’s hard to get up for those teams. But they were a good match to play because it teaches you to be disciplined,” Keller said.
After the Colonials’ initial burst was stymied—and after the Harvard players received their wake-up call midway through the first game—the outcome was never in doubt. The team used the rest of the match to continue building upon the momentum and confidence that was shaken after a loss early in the season to Roger Williams.
“We were working on more personal stuff today, like our own side of the net,” Reppun said, whose hard-hitting style led to a number of definitive kills.
The absences of co-captain and middle blocker Juan Cardet and senior setter Russ Mosier were not factors, as the other members of the team stepped up to share the offensive load—particularly Fitz.
“It’s pretty phenomenal for a freshman to come into our volleyball program and really lead us out there,” McKiernan said.
—Staff writer David H. Stearns can be reached at email@example.com.