The Harvard men’s volleyball team used its strong defense to overcome early errors, extending its winning streak to three on Saturday in a 3-0 defeat of Sacred Heart.
Playing at home in the Malkin Athletic Center, the Crimson (9-2, 3-2 EIVA) caught the conference foe Pioneers (4-11, 1-6 EIVA) on a three game losing streak. But Sacred Heart seemed undaunted by its recent losses at the outset.
The visitors capitalized off a number of unforced errors by the home team, taking an early 21-18 lead. With Harvard on the brink of dropping the first set, junior setter Derek Jansma stepped up for the Crimson with a handful of clutch serves.
“That was huge,” said co-captain outside hitter Matt Jones. “To go down in the first game would have been huge. But Derek really carried us there in the end. [Freshman outside hitter] DJ [White] had some good blocks, but Derek set him up with some nice serves, and it made it hard for them.”
Jansma’s strong serves swung the momentum in Harvard’s favor. The Crimson took the next six points, rallying from behind to win the first set, 25-22.
“The [first] game was much closer than it should have been because we made so many unforced errors,” Crimson coach Brian Baise said. “Any team is going to make it close when you make that many unforced errors.”
Harvard never looked back. The Crimson took control of the match with its stalwart defense, holding the Pioneers to a .061 hitting percentage. The home team tallied 21 digs, six of those coming from White, while limiting its opponents to 11. More importantly, Harvard limited the errors that nearly cost it the first set.
“We really wanted to minimize the unforced errors on our side. That’s something we’ve been focusing on,” Crimson coach Brian Baise said. “If we gave them the chance to make the errors instead of making the errors first, we felt that the match would go our way.”
Harvard was able to control the net with its strong defensive play. Sophomore outside hitter Nick Madden and freshman middle hitter Caleb Zimmick, a 6’9” freshman who is currently tenth in the nation with 1.23 blocks per game, tied for a match-high four blocks.
The Crimson went on to take the second set, 25-17, as Jones’s serve proved to be too much for the Sacred Heart to handle. Jones and White led Harvard with two service aces apiece.
The Pioneers found some energy late in the third set, pulling off a 7-2 run to cut the Crimson lead and bringing the match to 22-19. But it was too little, too late. Harvard defended its home court, winning the final set, 25-22.
Although the Crimson won its third straight game, Baise thinks that they are some areas where his team can improve.
“I thought we played okay. This wasn’t our best outing,” Baise said. “Anytime you can get a win in our league and get it in three games, we’re happy with that. We blocked really well. [Zimmick] did a great job and so did our outside guys.
“They had a pretty tough jump serve, and we didn’t handle it too well,” Baise continued. We have some teams coming up who are good at that so we need to get better at handling those. The back row defense and the serve receive are two things we’re going to focus on this week.”
Jones agreed that his team could have played better, but the team was happy to walk out of the Malkin Athletic Center with a win.
“We were 2-2 in the league, and we knew a win today was important to keep us where we wanted to be in the standings,” said Jones. “Sacred Heart is the bottom of the league, and we thought they had some weakness we could exploit. We didn’t play our best match of the year, but we got a big, three-game win today.”
Harvard currently sits in third place in the eight-team conference. Next week, the team begins a six-game road trip, with three of those games on the West Coast.
The Crimson will try to extend its winning streak on Mar. 2 when Harvard travels to Northern Virginia in a rematch against conference opponent George Mason.
When the Crimson and the Patriots met on Feb. 10 in Cambridge, George Mason swept Harvard, 3-0.