There were times this past season when the injury-riddled Harvard men’s volleyball team was worried it would not have enough healthy players to field a six-person lineup.
“With so few guys, I’ve never seen so many injuries,” said co-captain Gil Weintraub, who himself suffered everything from a pulled groin to multiple eye infections.
The injury bug first bit the Crimson in the fall when junior Shaun Mansour went down with a torn ACL. Things kept getting worse from there as senior Soren Rosier twice dislocated his shoulder, Weintraub hurt his hamstring, and sophomore Dan Schreff suffered a concussion.
But on top of finding enough healthy players to fill out lineup card, Harvard (5-16, 3-5 EIVA Hay) also had to find a way to win, something the team struggled to do in the early going. The Crimson went nine games and 39 days into the 2010 campaign before the team eventually came away with its first victory.
“We faced an extraordinary amount of adversity during the season,” Harvard coach Brian Baise said. “We had injury after injury from day one. It just made it really hard for us to play with any consistency. At times we were able to overcome it, and at times we weren’t.”
But the Crimson managed to pull itself together just when it mattered most—the start of conference play.
After beginning the season 0-9, Harvard went on a roll, winning five of its next eight matches to put itself in contention not only for a place in the EIVA playoffs, but also for the top spot in the division standings.
“Anytime [you lose that many games], any team is at risk of crumbling and not making it through that,” Baise said. “This team was incredible in that way. They came to practice every single day. They wanted to do nothing more than try to get a little better. We knew at some point the victories would come.”
The victories started to come in game 10, when the Crimson swept conference opponent NJIT behind 20 kills from sophomore Matt Jones and 47 assists from Weintraub.
“We used the adversity to kind of fuel us,” co-captain Erik Kuld said. “You really start doubting yourself and doubting your team, but we were patient, and it felt great to get that monkey off our back.”
Following its first triumph, the wins kept on coming, as Harvard won its next two games against division opponents, sweeping Sacred Heart and defeating NYU, 3-1—putting the Crimson just one game back of first-place Rutgers-Newark.
The two teams met on Apr. 9, but once again, injuries hurt Harvard, as the team was without Weintraub, who missed the contest due to a groin injury.
The Crimson’s typically strong attack failed to put a dent in the big Rutgers-Newark defense, finishing with a 16-percent attack percentage and surrendering the contest, 3-0.
The team lost its momentum from there, as Harvard dropped its next three conference matchups, removing the Crimson from playoff contention.
“In the end, it didn’t end up going our way, but we made a good show of it,” Weintraub said.
Weintraub, along with Kuld, provided much of the skill on the court and motivation off of it that helped the team stay focused, even when things were looking bleak.
While Kuld led the team with 322 kills, Weintraub finished the season with 277 assists and 126 kills.
“It’s a very resilient bunch of guys,” Baise said. “[Weintraub and Kuld] weren’t going to let anyone quit.”
—Staff writer Martin Kessler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.