Harvard took the first two games from Columbia but couldn't hold on, losing in five frames on Friday.
There is a balance between playing aggressively and playing timidly, and for yet another weekend, the Harvard women’s volleyball team was unable to strike that balance.
The Crimson (3-15, 0-8 Ivy) could not sustain its momentum after encouraging starts against both Cornell and Columbia this weekend at the Malkin Athletic Center, and as a result, stayed winless against Ivy competition.
“Some of the players had hit probably the best they’ve hit this season,” Harvard coach Jennifer Weiss said. “We did a lot of good things, but [our opponents] picked it up and we really didn’t respond to it.”
Coming into this weekend, Harvard had lost five straight matches—the two losses set the Crimson on a season-high seven-game losing streak. Cornell (14-3, 7-0) remained undefeated in the Ivies after rallying from a one game deficit and beating Harvard 3-1 on Saturday.
The previous night, Columbia (5-12, 3-3) dealt the Crimson its most crushing loss of the season, winning three straight games to clinch the match after trailing two games to none.
CORNELL 3, HARVARD 1
Although Harvard started out strong by winning the first game of the match 30-23, the first-place Big Red proved to be too tough an opponent, steamrolling the Crimson in the last three games, 30-20, 30-22, 30-21.
Overpowering Harvard with 55 kills, and coupled with a seamless defense, Cornell notched its fourth straight win and two straight on its current road trip. The Big Red’s Elizabeth Bishop led all players with 22 kills, and Amy Gordon had 54 assists.
The Crimson won the first game for the third straight match, garnering eight straight points on a run that put it ahead 27-14. Cornell responded with four straight points, but could not overcome the large deficit, losing the game 30-23.
Harvard could not sustain its momentum in the second game. The Big Red kept the game close until it strung together six points to give it a 23-18 lead and eventually a 30-20 win.
The third game was marked by yet another six-point Cornell rally towards the closing moments of the game, and ended on a kill by Alaina Town. The Big Red finished the fourth game, and the match, by outscoring the Crimson 13-7 over the last 20 points.
By winning the match 3-1, Cornell remained the only team in the Ivies with one league loss.
“We haven’t seen competition that’s been this good pretty much all season,” said sophomore Laura Mahon, who led Harvard with 16 kills and 17 digs. “We came out fired up to play, not knowing exactly what was going to happen with the match, but we wanted to play our hardest and execute our game play, which I feel we did through the first game.”
Yet, the inability to sustain its early momentum continued to haunt the Crimson.
“We just let strings of points go by and so we weren’t consistent enough to execute throughout the whole match,” Mahon added. “Our team needs to be more consistent point by point, and then the momentum will carry.”
“I feel we really did come out and execute our game plan, and we stuck with it,” sophomore Suzie Trimble said, “but [unforced] errors on our own side were what hurt us the most.”
COLUMBIA 3, HARVARD 2
Harvard’s worst loss of the season could be attributed to a third game where it racked up seven service errors and gave Columbia a chance to regain its composure after a two-game deficit.
“It’s really frustrating,” said freshman Laura Mays, who, along with junior Sarah Cebron, had 28 assists. “We came out confident and played awesome the first two games. Then we started to play more timid, [there was a] lack of communication, [and we] lost our momentum.
“It’s hard to win a game when you miss seven serves,” Mays added. “We kind of had a spiral effect after the first person missed her serve, and it got into our heads and we lost focus.”
The Lions won the third game 30-28, and went on to carry its momentum into the fifth and deciding game, running off seven straight points during a stretch to seal the match, 3-2 (16-30, 28-30, 30-28, 30-24, 15-9). Amalia Viti of Columbia had a match-high 18 kills, and Shannon Hunzicker recorded 64 assists.
“We started making mistakes,” Weiss said, “but Columbia also started getting their system going, so we needed to execute even more so to earn our points.”
Contributing to the Crimson’s fast start was freshman Kathryn McKinley, who returned from an injury, and put up 17 kills and 16 digs. After dominating the first game, Harvard won a close second game and looked well on their way to a sweep.
In the third game, however, the Crimson could not recover from its numerous service errors, which handed the Lions seven free points.
“We missed seven serves that game, and lost by two points,” Trimble said. “Serving is just a basic part of volleyball, and you just have to put it on the court.”
“Personally, I had five missed serves,” said Mahon, who recorded 15 kills, and led everyone with 25 digs. “I can’t even remember the last time that happened to me. Sometimes things just don’t go your way.”
“What happened on the whole in that match was a little bit of complacency in the last three games,” Mahon added. “The first two games weren’t a terrible challenge, and lo and behold, they picked it up and we weren’t ready for it.”
Weiss, however, offered another explanation.
“We wanted them to serve aggressively,” she said, “so maybe they were serving [too] aggressively.”
Harvard looked flat to begin the fourth game, losing its first seven points, but came back to tie the game at 19-19. However, it lost 10 and the final 13 points of the game, and could not stop a Columbia rally in the fifth to drop its sixth straight match.
—Staff writer Tony D. Qian can be reached at email@example.com.