After defeating Cornell and Columbia on the road last weekend, the Harvard women’s volleyball team will look to reach three straight conference wins for the first time since 2009 when Dartmouth travels to the Malkin Athletic Center on Friday.
The Crimson (7-11, 4-3 Ivy), having reached the midpoint of Ivy League play, is currently tied for third place with Penn. Although Yale, undefeated in the Ancient Eight, holds a firm grasp on first place, a win against the Big Green (2-15, 1-6) would keep Harvard within striking distance as the conference stretch run begins.
The team’s outlook was not as bright after its opening conference games, as the Crimson suffered two back-and-forth, five-set losses—including one to Dartmouth. But since those defeats, Harvard has gone 4-1 in league play.
“The tough five-game matches told us that we were capable of hanging with teams for a long period of time, but what we needed to do was not hang with them but overcome them,” said freshman outside hitter Kathleen Wallace. “We definitely have the ability to overcome [teams] in the end, and I think we recognized that in the Cornell and Columbia games and were more motivated to get ahead of our opponent instead of just staying on pace with them.”
Following a straight-set loss to the Bulldogs at home on Oct. 6, the Crimson bounced back last weekend with 3-1 and 3-0 victories over the Big Red and the Lions, respectively. Although the scores appear lopsided, each game was closely contested; the largest margin of victory within a set was six points.
“We came out with a lot of energy and were really consistent,” Wallace said. “If our opponent got two or three points, we didn’t get frazzled, but we fought back.”
Harvard first matched up against Dartmouth in Hanover on Sept. 21, and the Big Green dealt the Crimson a five-set defeat that has been Dartmouth’s sole Ivy win.
A relatively young team with only two seniors, the Big Green is led by two outside hitters, sophomore Alex Schoenberger and freshman Paige Caridi. Both played a large role in Dartmouth’s victory, and Harvard will need to take advantage of sound defense and blocking to even the season series.
“The competition between all the Ivies is very close,” Crimson coach Jennifer Weiss said. “I think we took a lot from that five-set loss. We have a gameplan, and the team is determined to stick to that gameplan. It should be another good match.”
Harvard has threats of its own upon which it has relied all season long. Captain Taylor Docter, the leader of the Crimson offense, accounted for 14 kills against Cornell and 21 against Columbia, her second highest total of the season and more than double that of any Lion.
“[Taylor] has such high expectations for herself,” Weiss said. “She’s done a wonderful job; she’s worked hard every day in practice, and you can see that it pays off. Her composure on court as a senior and a top hitter in the conference was definitely there this [past] weekend.”
Much of Harvard’s offense has come from the combination of Docter and Wallace. Docter ranks second in the Ivy League with 208 kills, and Wallace is not far behind in fifth place with 179.
“I can always count on [Taylor] as a passer [and] as a hitter, and I know she’s always focused on her job and is going to try her hardest every kill,” Wallace said. “I never question her ability at all on the court, and it’s been an honor to play with her.”
The Crimson’s setting duties have been shouldered almost entirely by senior Beth Kinsella and freshman Hannah Schmidt. The pair, which has produced consistently in every game, accounts for nearly 90 percent of the team’s season assist total.
Harvard has experienced the pain of losing close, five-set matches, but it has also shown that it has what it takes to pull out big victories. Both Weiss and Wallace believe that the team is in a good position as it prepares to take on its Ivy foes for a second time.
“Our goal going into the second half would be to come out with a strong start and win when we can,” Wallace said. “We’ve seen everyone before. We know what to expect, and we’re prepared.”