The Harvard men’s volleyball team was a few lucky breaks short of a banner weekend, as the Crimson split a pair of key conference matchups this weekend at the Malkin Athletic Center.
Coming off an emotional come-from-behind win against NYU Friday night, the Crimson (5-3, 2-3 Hay) was unable to close against undefeated conference leader Springfield on Saturday.
Both matches went to a deciding fifth game, and both were marked by aggressive play and changing momentum. In the end, however, Harvard failed to secure what would have been its biggest victory of the season.
The Springfield match was the Crimson’s best shot at an inside track to a berth in the EIVA conference tournament. Harvard is one game below .500 in the conference and entrenched in the middle of the standings.
“At the end of the day, I’m disappointed, the team’s disappointed, and we’ve dug ourselves a hole if we want to make the playoffs now,” said captain and setter Dave Fitz. “But we’ve just got to win out and hopefully a couple teams will lose.”
SPRINGFIELD 3, HARVARD 2
Harvard dropped the fourth and fifth games on Saturday night, letting Springfield get away with a 3-2 (28-30, 30-24, 25-30, 30-26, 15-9) victory.
After losing 3-0 to the Pride (13-5, 5-0) in the two teams’ first matchup on Jan. 30, Harvard seemed to be making a statement by getting out to an early lead.
The Crimson came out fired up, taking the first game by the score of 30-28. Harvard boasted a gaudy .412 hitting percentage and recorded a match-high 19 kills in establishing a 1-0 lead. Senior middle hitter Andy Nelson and junior outside hitter Jordan Weitzen recorded six each during the opening game, with Weitzen’s last kill coming as an emphatic end to a hard-fought, back-and-forth opening frame.
“I don’t think we took them by surprise,” Fitz said. “I think they knew that the first time we played them, we played horrible and that we were a better team [than we showed].”
The Crimson and the Pride exchanged wins in the second and third games, as Springfield’s block became increasingly effective against the Harvard attack.
It was not, however, until partway through the fourth game that the momentum truly shifted in the Pride’s favor. Down 6-1 and trailing by a game, Springfield avoided mistakes and often caught the Crimson off guard by tipping the ball towards undefended areas of the court at unexpected moments.
Harvard hung tough but ultimately dropped the game, 30-26.
Seemingly deflated, the Crimson made several errors in the fifth and final game as the Pride took control early and hung on for a 15-9 win and a 3-2 match victory.
“They blocked us great and took us out of our offense,” Fitz said. “They had two blocks on our middle the whole time, and that’s our [strength]. So we had to change it up, and our timing was a little off.”
Although disappointing, the loss Saturday night featured a much better Harvard team than was seen in the loss on Jan. 30.
The idea of a moral victory, however, did not seem to persuade Fitz.
“I guess you can say we got a moral victory,” he said. “But a moral victory doesn’t count in the win column.”
HARVARD 3, NYU 2
After a strong start, Harvard stumbled in games two and three before ultimately recovering to post a 3-2 (30-27, 25-30, 22-30, 30-22, 15-13) win over the Violets on Friday night.
Trailing NYU (7-10, 1-2) by a game and coming off an anemic third frame in which the Crimson posted as many errors as kills, Harvard entered the do-or-die fourth game and promptly dropped the first four points.
Things began to turn around quickly, however, as the Crimson attack was increasingly able to find and exploit holes in the NYU defense.
The Harvard offense was led by Weitzen and sophomore middle hitter Brady Weissbourd, who each registered four kills in the crucial game, and orchestrated by Fitz, who registered a solid .473 assist percentage throughout the match.
The Crimson’s combined efforts resulted in a 30-22 fourth game victory and forced a deciding fifth game.
When asked what led to his team’s success in the penultimate frame, Harvard coach Christopher Ridolfi stressed the importance of teamwork.
“I thought we passed better in game four,” he said. “We simply passed better. And when we can set up everybody, we’re a much better team. We can’t rely on one person to get this done.”
If the fourth game highlighted Ridolfi’s squad’s teamwork, then the fifth game showcased their resiliency, as Harvard waited until it was trailing 11-5 before rattling off seven straight points and eventually clinching the match with a 15-13 victory.
Ridolfi referred to the victory as “huge” and praised his team’s execution.
“We probably should have played a little sooner than 5-11 in the fifth game,” he said. “But we’ll take it at this point. It was great fight, a good team win. They executed what was asked of them to execute down the stretch.”
After the game, Crimson players were quick to praise Weitzen’s play in the fourth and fifth games.
“Jordan was on fire today,” Fitz said, adding, “I told Jordan when we came back from the second timeout that they called that we’re riding him the rest of the game, and he came through for us in the clutch.”