After a close victory over Springfield Monday night at Malkin Athletic Center, the Harvard men’s volleyball team (6-1, 0-0 EIVA Hay) has matched its best start since 2000. The Pride (3-9, 0-3 EIVA Tait) battled through four sets, but the Crimson sealed the game with a 32-30 victory thanks to the power plays of outside hitters junior Matt Jones and freshman Chris Gibbons.
“We really need to focus on finishing, but we played really hard out there,” Harvard coach Brian Baise said. “It was good to come out with that win.”
With the score tied at 27, several defensive saves in the next rally failed to win Harvard the point, and Springfield tooled the block to take the lead 28-27.
Jones crushed one into the deep corner, tying the score at 28, and freshman Kyle Rehkemper ended the next offensive set for the Pride with a big block at the net, taking a one point lead.
But Springfield would not back down, as senior Alberto Bravo powered home a big hit to tie it at 29. Two plays later, with the score tied, 30-30, Rehkemper put down the next point, and a line error from Springfield gave the Crimson the match, 32-30.
“It gets very tense out there,” Rehkempser said. “You just [have] to finish.”
Service errors plagued both teams from the very beginning as they exchanged points, struggling to find an offensive rhythm. With the score tied, 19-18, in the first set, Rehkemper sparked the Harvard offense with a powerful kill, and from there on, Jones and Rehkemper led the Crimson to take the set, 25-22.
Harvard started the second game strongly, quickly taking a 10-7 lead. But Springfield, led by Bravo, capitalized on defensive errors from the Crimson to take the lead, 17-15. Harvard rallied late behind an exciting save by Rehkemper, who made a pass off his back off a deflection of Bravo’s serve. Despite getting within one, the Crimson would fall short when several disputed calls landed the Pride the set, 25-20.
Springfield quickly sprang to a 4-2 lead despite blocks from Harvard freshman Michael Owen. Owen continued making big plays at the net as the two teams traded points until the score climbed to 10-8 in favor of the Pride.
A trick play by Owen and Jones then fooled Springfield as Jones powered it away from behind the 6’7” freshman. The Pride committed a hitting error on the next play, but quickly regained its feet and put it away from the middle twice in a row to maintain a three point lead, forcing a Harvard timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the Crimson picked up its defense. Huge blocks from Owen and sophomore Rob Lothman as well as key kills from Jones and Gibbons brought the squad back to 21 all.
“Blocking was key,” Baise said. “Kyle and Michael both played great up front.”
But a missed serve by Jones, followed by a big hit from the Pride, put Springfield up by two. Gibbons answered with two consecutive kills, tying it up once again. The two teams traded points tomake it 24-24, then continued to flip-flop until the Pride pulled ahead 26-27.
Harvard responded when Jones hit a tight angle shot from the outside along the 10 foot line to tie it up. The next play was a long rally with several digs on both sides as well as a few tight net plays. The Crimson won the rally with a touch shot from Jones right over the defense. The game ended with a block from Lothman to win the set, 29-27.
“They had some big servers,” Gibbons said. “But I think all the passers stepped up and we were really able to control their balls, and that’s definitely key for pulling out a win.”
Harvard came out fast in the fourth game with shots from Rehkemper, Owen, and Gibbons putting the Crimson up, 5-2. The lead quickly grew to 8-5, the biggest advantage of the game to that point. But it was short lived, as the Pride began a furious rally that took the game to 30 all. Nevertheless, Harvard pulled it out, 32-30.
“You get anxious out there,” Gibbons added. “Because you’re just trading points back and forth. It’s just whichever team is focused the most and wants it the most, and apparently it was us today.”