Junior Laura Mahon had 11 kills—second most on the team—against Princeton on Saturday, but her effort could not prevent this weekend's sweep by a duo of Ivy foes: the Tigers and UPenn.
After rolling past the competition for two straight weeks, the Harvard women’s volleyball team hit a bump in the road this past weekend, dropping two matches to visiting Penn and Princeton at the Malkin Athletic Center (MAC).
The Crimson (8-7, 2-2 Ivy) lost a 3-2 heartbreaker to the Quakers on Friday night before getting swept by the Tigers on Saturday.
The weekend set dropped Harvard from the top of the Ivy League standings and into the middle of the pack, while Princeton recovered on Saturday after losing its first match of the season to Dartmouth on Friday night.
The Crimson will try and recover this weekend when first-place Yale (9-4, 4-0) and Brown (5-11, 1-3) come to Cambridge.
“The way the Ivy League works is that anyone can beat anyone on a given day,” senior setter Sarah Cebron said.
PRINCETON 3, HARVARD 0
It’s often said that the mark of a team is how it recovers from adversity.
By that standard, Princeton is looking pretty good.
After getting routed by Dartmouth on Friday night and losing their first match of the season, the Tigers (12-1, 2-1) recovered to sweep the Crimson on Saturday afternoon, winning 3-0 (30-24, 30-23, 30-23).
“This night’s match was in our control,” senior Katie Turley-Molony said, “but we just didn’t step up to the plate.”
Harvard coach Jennifer Weiss had to make some adjustments to her lineup. With freshman Katherine Kocurek out of action because of injury, sophomore Katherine McKinley filled in at libero.
Additionally, Turley-Molony, usually a starter at middle hitter, came in on the outside for just the second time this season, finishing the match with a team-high 13 kills.
“She has the mentality that she wants to get the job done,” Weiss said. “She’s versatile—I have a lot of confidence in her, no matter where she is.”
All three games followed a similar pattern: the Crimson started strong before losing focus and fading towards the end.
In the opening frame, Harvard and Princeton battled through the first few points before the Crimson jumped out to a 13-9 lead.
But with Harvard ahead 17-14, the Tigers went on a 9-0 run to open up a six-point margin. The Crimson did not recover, as Princeton won 30-24 to take the 1-0 match lead.
In game two, neither team led by more than three points until the Tigers moved ahead, 16-12. From there, Princeton continued to slowly increase its lead and coasted to a 30-23 finish.
The third frame was an offensive slugfest, as both teams registered hitting percentages in the .300 range. Tiger outside hitter Lindsay Ensign showed why she leads the league in total kills and hitting percentage, registering four kills over a span of five points. Meanwhile, Turley-Molony posted a similar effort, tallying three out of four points when the Crimson was down 26-17.
But her effort was not enough, as the Tigers’ defense was able to post a 75 percent sideout rate en route to another 30-23 victory.
“Our team relies on its ability to play together, and towards the end of the match, we lost that,” Turley-Molony said. “When some of the parts of our game broke down, we didn’t rally as much as we usually do.”
PENN 3, HARVARD 2
In an up-and-down five game thriller, the Quakers (6-8, 1-2) got the best of the Crimson on Friday night, handing Harvard its first Ivy League loss of the season (35-33, 19-30, 21-30, 30-27, 15-11).
Despite leading 2-1 and maintaining a 25-22 lead in game four, the Crimson couldn’t hold on and stumbled in game five, snapping its six-match win streak.
“We definitely had control of that whole match,” Cebron said. “But we didn’t finish.”
Game five was the heartbreaker.
Numerous errors by Harvard led to an insurmountable 11-3 Penn lead. The Crimson didn’t roll over though, charging back to within two at 13-11. But it was too little too late for Harvard, as a kill and one of Penn’s 15 team blocks polished off the Crimson.
“In game five, I really think our fundamentals broke down,” Cebron noted. “Game five is really the game where you have to come out aggressive, and we were tentative.”
Game one turned out to be an indicator for how the match would shape up. Harvard jumped out to an early 7-1 lead and later held five game points before giving up three straight points at the end to fall 35-33.
“That’s an opportunity you have to capitalize on,” Weiss said, referring to the five chances to finish off game one. “The outcome is not going to come your way if you can’t capitalize on those situations.”
Despite the disheartening game one loss, the Crimson regained control of the match by dominating Penn in games two and three. Trailing 2-1 in game two, Harvard scored eight of the next nine points to take a 9-3 lead. The Quakers never got closer than three as the Crimson evened the match, 1-1.
Much of the same occurred in game three, as Harvard took a big lead early. Penn closed to within one at 17-16, but the Crimson used a 10-1 run to break open the game en route to a 30-21 victory.
Harvard struggled early in game four, but battled back to take a three-point lead at 25-22 after trailing by as much as four. The Quakers answered, though, tying the game at 26 before scoring four of the final five points to force the deciding fifth game.
“Our mentality was a little bit different for half the game,” Weiss said. “And then we were there for the rest of the half, but that’s not enough.”
—Staff writer Kevin C. Reyes can be reached at email@example.com.
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.