The intensity and the spotlight were all on the Harvard men’s volleyball team Saturday night, when it rallied for a furious three-set comeback against MIT in front of a boisterous crowd at the Malkin Athletic Center.
The Crimson (3-1, 0-0 EIVA Hay) dropped the first set against the Engineers (10-2, 6-0 AVCA), only to come back with three straight victories to take the game.
“[It was an] incredible match on both sides,” Harvard coach Brian Baise said. “I thought the quality of volleyball was very high. [It was] intense competition. Our guys did a great job.”
With the score tied at 29-29 late in the fourth set, Harvard knew that it had come too far to allow another frame. As fatigue set in on both sides, the roar of the crowd gave the home squad the strength for one last push.
Indeed, momentum was on the Crimson’s side, as it had already rallied back from a 21-13 deficit. Freshman Kyle Rehkemper crushed a set by junior Rob Lothman to gain the advantage, 30-29. MIT could not respond—as it had successfully done for 10 straight points—and a fatal attack error ended the game, 31-29, in favor of Harvard.
“We were way down in the fourth game,” Baise said, “and to come back like that showed a lot of strength. I’m really proud of them.”
The Crimson had started the night off strong, taking a 10-5 lead early in the first set. But the Engineers rallied to eventually tie the game, and the two teams exchanged points until the very end with Harvard leading, 24-23. Three straight Crimson errors gave the set away to MIT, resulting in a score of 26-24.
“The first game was ours,” Baise said. “I think we had three game points, but MIT hung in there. We gave away some points we shouldn’t have, and we’re working on that.”
Harvard took the second and third set through a combination of great serving and solid defense. The Crimson’s blocking really troubled the outsides of the Engineers, forcing difficult and often inaccurate adjustments by the outsides in mid-air and causing several unforced errors.
“We served pretty well,” Jones said. “[That] got them out of their system. Those big freshmen just go up there and go to work. We read their hitters pretty well, and we [were] getting some good hands up.”
With the game on the line, the Engineers turned up its offense in the fourth set, and despite the roar of the home crowd, gained a 5-1 lead, forcing the Crimson to spend a timeout. After trading blows, MIT used its offensive rhythm to expand the lead to 21-13.
But that was when Harvard began its own rally, chipping away at the Engineers’ lead until a crushed kill from Jones brought the game within three, forcing two back-to-back MIT timeouts.
But even that could not cool off the red-hot Crimson, which tied the game off MIT errors.
“We had some great blocking,” Baise said. “No ball hit the floor we weren’t going for. We really made it tough for them to score points in the fourth game, especially when we were down by six or seven points, and they had to swing four or five times, and we kept getting the ball up. They get tired, and we get a little momentum, and that was key—it was absolutely our defense.”
The Engineers capitalized on two Harvard mistakes to regain the lead, 24-22, but two powerful kills brought Harvard back into the game, tying the game at 24-apiece. MIT and the Crimson exchanged a point at 25, but a tremendous rally ended in the Engineers’ favor, giving them a one-point lead.
Harvard tied up the game with an outside shot, and then put it down once again for the lead. The two teams exchanged points furiously, and with the scored tied at 29, the Crimson sealed the set—and the contest—with two straight kills, ending the match at 31-29.
“The fourth game—you don’t get many of those,” Jones said. “We got down by a lot, but we just found a run late in the game. That was huge, especially for a young team like us to get a confidence boost...to know we can pull games out like that.”
—Staff writer James Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.