The New England Challenge provided an immediate test for a young Harvard squad—and the Crimson responded, winning the tournament on a tiebreaker after sweeping Holy Cross on Saturday night.
Harvard (1-0) opened the weekend—and its season—with a thrilling five-game loss to Boston College on Friday night, but redeemed itself with a 3-2 victory over Rhode Island Saturday afternoon at the Malkin Athletic Center.
“The win [over Rhode Island] was very much a quality win,” Harvard coach Jennifer Weiss said. “Both [the Eagles and the Rams] were very big teams. Our heart and desire allowed us to stay in every point and get the job done.”
Sophomore outside hitter Laura Mahon—the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year—and classmate Suzie Trimble were named to the All-Tournament team.
HARVARD 3, HOLY CROSS 0
After two marathon matches, the Crimson finally got a chance to catch its breath, sweeping the Crusaders (30-20, 30-23, 30-26) to close out the New England Challenge with a 2-1 record.
Harvard survived a rash of unforced errors in the third frame, watching its eight-point lead evaporate to three before closing out Holy Cross 30-26.
“Holy Cross played well and dug a lot of balls,” Weiss said. “I think that caught us a bit off guard.”
After dropping the first three points of the second game, the Crimson capitalized on three Trimble aces to take 10 of the next 14 points and a 10-7 lead.
Three kills by junior middle hitter Katie Turley-Molony and two aces by freshman setter Laura Mays gave Harvard a 22-12 advantage—its largest of the match.
The Crusaders (1-6) scrapped back to pull within three, 26-23, but the Crimson took the last four points to take the game.
A 9-3 run midway through the opening frame helped the Crimson claim the early momentum and cruise to a 30-20 win. Turley-Molony and Trimble combined for five clutch kills down the stretch to give Harvard the one game to none lead.
HARVARD 3, RHODE ISLAND 2
Just half a day removed from its first five-game match of the season, Harvard went the distance again, defeating URI 3-2 (25-30, 30-28, 30-25, 20-30, 16-14) on Saturday afternoon.
After winning their first two contests of the New England Challenge against Holy Cross and BC in straight sets, the Rams (5-4) had the momentum coming into the match against the Crimson. But a young Harvard team displayed its grit, vanquishing URI despite trailing late in the decisive frame.
Though the Crimson jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the fifth game, the resurgent Rams attacked, going on a 10-4 run to establish a two-point cushion.
Harvard fought back and erased the deficit, setting the stage for a mysterious play.
With the score tied at 13, one of the referees called a double-hit violation on URI, apparently giving the Crimson match point. But after a huddled conversation among the officials, the tally was removed from the scoreboard and the point was replayed.
Rather than letting the confusion get into their heads, the Harvard players maintained their focus, setting up two match points at 14-13 and 15-14 before prevailing on an untouched ace from the jump-serving Mahon.
“Usually, a call like that can swing the momentum back to the other team,” co-captain Sarah Cebron said. “So it was really huge for us to be able to get that sideout on the next point.”
The Crimson showed its mettle throughout the match. In the first frame, Harvard came back from a 25-18 deficit to within three points before eventually losing 30-25.
And in the following game, the Crimson squeezed out a 30-28 victory against the older and more experienced Rams.
Most importantly, however, Harvard bounced back to a fifth-frame victory after being routed 30-20 in the fourth game, with Mays (23 assists, five digs, four blocks) and classmate Kathryn McKinley (eight kills, eight digs)—playing in only the second match of their collegiate careers—proving instrumental down the stretch.
“It’s really exciting because after losing [the Class of ’05], everyone in the league is not really looking at us as a challenge,” Mahon said. “But we’ve got some great new players, and we haven’t even seen the best of them yet.”
BOSTON COLLEGE 3, HARVARD 2
If the rest of the play is as good as the opening scene, the drama may close with another Ivy championship banner hanging in the rafters.
Coming out swinging in its first match of the season, the underdog Crimson gave the Eagles (3-3) a run for their money in on Friday night, pushing BC to five frames before finally succumbing 3-2 (21-30, 31-29, 30-23, 26-30, 15-11).
In a contest that featured 23 ties and 10 lead changes, Harvard showed that despite the graduation of front liners Kaego Ogbechie and Nilly Schweitzer, as well as setter Kim Gould, the Crimson was a force to be reckoned with.
“Boston College was on fire last night,” Mahon said. “We always have a tough match with them—it goes either way—but we gave them a great match.”
At first, things couldn’t look worse for Harvard. The Eagles tossed in four kills and an ace, firing off seven consecutive tallies before the Crimson could respond with even one of its own. But Harvard steadily chipped away at the lead, pulling to within two after a BC service error.
The Crimson then went on to take eight consecutive points on Turley-Molony’s serve to establish a 23-17 margin. From there, Harvard would coast to a shocking 30-21 first-frame win.
Though the Eagles regained their form in the second game, the Crimson had the momentum on its side. The two teams traded points throughout the frame, with neither one being able to maintain a lead.
“We just wanted to win the rally points,” Weiss said. “And that allowed us to stay with them.”
At 28-28, an attack error by BC gave Harvard a game point. But the Eagles took the next three points to barely escape a two-frame deficit.
“We played really hard,” Mahon said, “but Boston College was just digging a lot of balls and getting a lot of kills.”
The Eagles took control of the third game, preventing Harvard from ever gaining the lead as they breezed to a 30-23 victory to move ahead 2-1 in the match. But the Crimson returned the favor in the following frame, never trailing in its 30-26 win.
Though Harvard then took a 5-2 lead to open the fifth game, the Eagles’ attack—led by 22 kills from junior outside hitter Dorota Niemczewska—rediscovered its rhythm and smashed its way to a 15-11 victory.
“It was a battle on both sides—it was closely fought throughout,” Cebron said. “But in the fifth game, they just pulled out the win.”
—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.