After capturing its first conference win of the season against Penn last Saturday, the Harvard women’s volleyball team looks to pick up steam as it faces two more Ivy League opponents, Brown and Yale, this weekend at the Malkin Athletic Center.
Wins against the Bears and the first place Bulldogs would put the Crimson (4-10, 1-2 Ivy) at the center of the race for the Ivy League title. Harvard currently trails Yale (7-5, 3-0) and Princeton (6-7, 3-0) by two games.
The Crimson has had its share of close contests this season, as four of its last five matches have stretched into the fifth set. Following a 2-3 loss to Princeton the day earlier, Harvard was able to pull out a win in a back-and-forth match against the Quakers that also took five games to decide.
“[Beating Penn] was awesome, just because the team has worked hard consistently throughout the season,” Crimson coach Jennifer Weiss said. “Sometimes volleyball, because of momentum, goes one way or the other and sometimes it comes down to just a few points. That fifth set is really anybody’s ballgame, and you have to be prepared for the fifth set.”
Before the win against Penn (6-8, 1-2), Harvard had lost all four of its five-set matches this season. According to captain Taylor Docter, defeating the Quakers is proof that the Crimson has what it takes to pull out big victories in the closing points.
“I think that it was a really crucial win because it shows that we can win in that fifth game,” Docter said. “Hopefully we’ll do that in the future.”
Harvard will have two more chances to improve its conference record this weekend, as Brown (4-9, 0-3) comes to town on Friday before the Crimson faces Yale in a big matchup the next day.
Although the Bears have had their share of struggles this season, the team comes into Cambridge having pulled out a close, four-set victory against Rhode Island in its last game. Brown is led by sophomore outside hitter Maddie Lord, who has more than twice the number of kills of any of her teammates.
The Bears are winless in the Ivy League this season, but in a sport like volleyball, one momentum swing can decide a game.
“Every team [in the Ivy League] is so well matched and such a similar caliber that a lot of games go to five,” Docter said. “For a lot of them you feel like it could go one way or the other.”
The Bulldogs, Harvard’s Saturday night opponent, have proven to be a difficult matchup lately, as the team has won four straight games, only dropping a single set along the way.
Junior setter Kendall Polan, last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, highlights the Yale offense. Polan leads the team with 290 assists, and ranks third with over 100 kills.
Although both Weiss and Docter noted the effectiveness of Yale’s attack, the Crimson has been working to come up with a strategy to counteract the strengths of the Bulldogs.
“They’re a very consistent team,” Weiss said. “They have a great right side attack, but there are some things that we’re going to capitalize on. Every opponent you try to find some of their weaknesses and try to capitalize on that, and I think we have our goals in line in practice yesterday and today.”
Harvard will need solid production from its regular contributors to be able to successfully execute its gameplan. Although Docter leads the team in kills, the win against Penn was characterized by a balanced Crimson attack.
Docter, freshman outside hitter Kathleen Wallace, and junior right side Erin Cooney each registered 14, 14, and 13 kills, respectively, in the win. Harvard’s two main setters, senior Beth Kinsella and freshman Hannah Schmidt, accounted for 25 and 24 assists.
“I think the other girls have been stepping up a lot, and that we have a really, really solid group of underclassmen right now,” Docter said. “I don’t even think about the fact that I lead in kills because I feel like every other game everyone has at least close to as many as I do.”
Weiss believes that the Crimson’s recent close matches have gone a long way toward preparing the team for its upcoming crucial conference showdowns as the team heads into the heart of the Ivy League season trailing Yale and Princeton by two games in the loss column.
“We want to stay where we are now in terms of our practice and really coming in and fighting every day,” Weiss said. “This is truly a group that is giving 100 percent effort in practice, and that’s going to be evident as we get to these emotional matches.”
Added Weiss, “I think when we have an opportunity to close it, we need to close it.”