For the first time all season, the last kill of the match belonged to the Crimson.
Though its regular starting setter remained unavailable due to a bone bruise—and its best player sat on the bench with a sore shoulder—the Harvard men’s volleyball team cruised past league rival Vassar, sweeping the Brewers 3-0 (30-20, 30-23, 30-24) on Saturday afternoon at the Malkin Athletic Center to win its first contest of the young season.
Despite the absence of junior Dave Fitz and co-captain and leading scorer Seamus McKiernan, the Crimson (1-6, 1-1 Hay) played aggressively and attacked the Vassar defense throughout the match.
Four Harvard players reached double figures in kills, with senior outside hitter Luke McCrone producing 17 kills and just one error on 24 swings for a whopping .667 hitting percentage.
“That is the best hitting game I’ve ever seen from Luke,” said sophomore outside hitter Jordan Weitzen, adding, “He must have hit something like .900—he was on fire.”
The Crimson dominated the Brewers (1-5, 0-3) in the first two frames, leading throughout.
In serving and hitting for the lines, Harvard made several errors but made it very difficult for Vassar to set up its attack.
Better passing, including 50 assists by sophomore setter Brian Rapp, allowed Harvard to attack effectively.
The Crimson had struggled to gain an offensive rhythm in its previous six matches.
“We haven’t been passing the ball well the whole year, but we passed the ball well today,” Crimson coach Chris Ridolfi said. “We made some changes to the passing scheme this weekend, and the players executed it.”
With Rapp guiding the offense, Harvard streaked out to a 5-1 start to open the match.
Though the Brewers continued to battle, profiting from nine Crimson service errors, Harvard slowly increased the gap and held off several Vassar mini-rallies to coast to a 30-20 victory.
The Brewers were more persistent in the second game, but the Crimson continued its offensive surge, registering a .457 hitting percentage for the frame. The Vassar block struggled to contain McCrone and junior middle hitter Andy Nelson, allowing Harvard to capture game two by a score of 30-23.
“We came in fired up and ready to play,” Weitzen said. “We got to have some fun while we were out there, too, and that attitude helped us out a lot.”
With their backs against the wall, the Brewers finally awoke in the third frame. Instead of following the pattern of the first two games and letting the Crimson build up a large lead, Vassar fervently dug balls and chased them down to keep pace with Harvard.
After a timeout, the Brewers fired off five consecutive points to take their first lead of the match at 14-13.
But the Crimson prevented Vassar from enlarging its cushion, battling back to go ahead by a small margin of its own.
At 22-22, Harvard’s offense finally took over the frame, using an 8-2 run to close out the Brewers, 30-24.
“It’s a first step,” Ridolfi said of the victory. “We needed to take this first step. Hopefully, now we can string together a few wins.”
The Crimson will play its next five matches on the road, including three Hay Division matchups against New Haven, New Jersey Tech, and Springfield.
But Harvard will start that slate with two non-conference matchups, facing Rivier in Nashua, N.H., on Wednesday at 7 p.m. before traveling to Beverly, Mass., the following week to play Endicott.
“We’re getting a little bit closer, and we’re starting to trust each other a little bit more,” Ridolfi said. “That will help on the road.”
—Staff writer Karan Lodha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.