Sophomore outside hitter Kathryn McKinley, shown here in earlier action, attacked Brown’s weak block, posting 15 kills to lead Harvard to a 3-0 sweep. McKinley also registered a team-high 21 digs.
The Harvard women’s volleyball team closed out its 2006 season with a split on the road this weekend, sweeping Brown, 3-0, and losing to Yale by the same score in matches that showed the extent to which the team had meshed throughout the year.
The Crimson (11-14, 5-9 Ivy) finished sixth in the Ivy League, undershooting high expectations heaped on it at the beginning of the year but showing a marked improvement over last year’s winless record in league play.
Despite the tough loss to Yale, the team’s spirits were generally positive in light of a markedly improved season.
“This was a really good weekend for us—a very emotional, positive experience and a great cap to a great season,” said senior outside hitter Katie Turley-Molony. “Everything came together, and it’ll be really sad for me to be leaving this great group of girls.”
YALE 3, HARVARD 0
Unfortunately for the Crimson, Saturday’s match against Yale (16-7, 11-3) did not afford Harvard the chance to close the season out with a win, as the Bulldogs opened up an early lead and held it, never trailing in a 3-0 victory (30-24, 30-25, 30-20).
“We never really took Yale out of their system,” junior co-captain Laura Mahon said. “They maintained their game plan the whole time.”
Indeed, Yale had nearly thirty more kills (61) and digs (72) than did Harvard, which accumulated 34 and 43, respectively.
In a disappointing season finale, sophomore outside hitter Kathryn McKinley led the Crimson in kills, with 11, while freshman setter Lily Durwood and Mahon tied for the lead in digs with 10 apiece.
After hanging with Yale early in the first game, matching them point for point until an 11-10 Bulldog lead, Harvard began slipping. Yale accelerated to a 28-21 lead, a margin that the Crimson managed to pare by only a single point before the Bulldogs closed out the game on a kill by freshman outside hitter Alexis Crusey.
The second game opened far less auspiciously for Harvard, as Yale jumped out to a 6-0 lead, which the Crimson managed to narrow to 13-10, before the Bulldogs lead stabilized at five up to the end of the game.
“They were picking up balls that usually would drop,” Turley-Molony said. “They broke down our passing a lot.”
The Bulldogs steadily expanded its lead throughout the third game, reaching a six-point advantage at 9-3 and their eventual 10-point advantage by 28-18.
HARVARD 3, BROWN 0
In Friday’s 3-0 (30-26, 32-30, 30-26) sweep of Brown—Harvard’s first shutout of an opponent in league play in two years—the Crimson played one of its most consistent matches to avenge a tough sweep at the hands of the Bears (8-18, 4-10) a month earlier.
“We were really just on,” Durwood said. “The first time we played them, we had a really rough match because we had lost Kat. This time Kat was back, we had a really good week in practice, and we were really ready.”
Kat Kocurek, a freshman libero, missed seven matches because of an injury sustained against Penn in early October. She returned to the lineup against Cornell last weekend, setting a comfortable tone on the court for the Crimson.
“Kat’s a huge plus to have,” Turley-Moloney said of Kocurek, who dug 18 balls, boosting her team-leading mark of 4.44 digs per game. “We can rely on her making great plays. She’s wise beyond her years, and it’s great to have someone back there that we can trust.”
Facing Brown’s relatively strong middle blocking and weaker outside blocking, the Crimson deviated from its trademark reliance on middle hitters such as Turley-Molony and junior Suzie Trimble and leaned more heavily on its outside hitters.
McKinley capitalized on Brown’s weak outside blocking with a match-leading 15 kills.
Despite Harvard’s strong attack, the Bears’ league-leading digging resulted in “really, really, really long rallies,” according to Durwood. These rallies forced Harvard to make 75 digs, an average of 25 per game, far above its season average of 18 per game. McKinley accounted for a match-leading 21 of those digs.
Though the Crimson’s play against Brown was strong overall, a 15-4 Brown rally in the third set provided a nerve-racking reminder of Harvard’s season-long weakness in closing out close matches.
“It’s mentally difficult to close out a match,” Mahon said. “That’s one thing we can improve on the most—being more aggressive in the clutch when we need to get it done.”