To start things off, the Sacred Heart bus ominously broke down en route to Cambridge, delaying the start of the game for 20 minutes, which the Crimson eventually won, 3-1.
The religiously affiliated school also brought with it a congregation’s worth of fans, and pseudo-deity Larry Summers even made an appearance for one game.
Adding to the sacred atmosphere was the fact that it was senior night, as an obviously impassioned group of followers rooted for a middle blocker on the Harvard men’s basketball team with the initials J.C.
And to top things off, though the team’s play wasn’t quite holy, it certainly had some holes.
Although the Crimson (10-5, 8-5 EIVA) finished off the Pioneers (11-6, 5-3) it was not the blowout it appeared. After the twenty minute delay, Harvard started out sloppily, due largely to a slew of bad serves, and trailed for most of the game’s beginning. Only after winning some jousts at the top of the net, and buoyed by an authoritative sophomore opposite hitter Seamus McKiernan’s kill, the team soon tied the game at 14-14, and after holidng off a late run, won it 30-25.
Summers appeared after the first game, and shook the hand of each Crimson player. As if spurred on by his presence, the squad played what McKiernan called “some of the best volleyball of the season,” confidently trouncing Sacred Heart during a game in which it never trailed.
But it seemed less due to Summers than to the spirited play of senior middle blocker Juan Cardet, the object of the incessant “J.C.” cheers. It was clear that the fans energized him and that, in turn, he energized the team.
“He’ll look into your eyes and say ‘I’m gonna get a kill, or I’m gonna get a block.’ He leads us with that intensity,” McKiernan said.
But even on a night he called “awesome,” and which was very much about him and classmate and setter Ross Mosier, he deflected praise.
“It wasn’t like I had to motivate them,” Cardet said. “They motivated themselves.”
But after Summers left following the second game, the team looked as if it had lost both the energy and focus it had shown in the second game. The Pioneers had also found a key Harvard weakness.
“They made some adjustments,” Cardet said.
During this third game, the Crimson made the majority of its 28 errors, doubling Sacred Heart’s total of 14.
But whatever elements of its game Harvard had lost in the third, it found again in the fourth. It seemed as if the Crimson had re-adjusted to the Pionoeers’ uncomplex, power-oriented style of play.
After playing a match that featured mostly finesse—a variety of dinks and decoys—Harvard kept it a little simpler, charged by McKiernan, who finished the night with a club leading 16 kills. Cardet also had an impressive period and finished with 15.
The game also featured the majority of senior opposite hitter Juan Ramos’ 16 digs. Despite the sometimes shaky play, at the end of the night, coach Rob Keller was pleased with the victory.
“It was a team effort. When we play as a team, we win, when we play as individuals our playing is fragmented, and we don’t play well,” Keller said.
But senior night was still special for Cardet and classmate setter Russ Mosier.
“For one thing, I’m really happy to get a win on senior night for Juan,” McKiernan said.
And when asked again about his energy’s positive effect on his team’s play, the modest native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, offered up a J.C. of his own: “Just coincidence.”