While most students took the first few days of spring break to unwind from the first half of the second semester, the Harvard men’s volleyball team was hard at work on the West Coast. The Crimson utilized a balanced offensive game and strong passing to finish its California road trip with two wins and one loss.
HARVARD 3, CAL BAPTIST 2
After falling to Pepperdine and topping No. 12 Cal State Northridge, the Crimson took on Cal Baptist (10-14, 0-0) to wrap up the weekend. This final game would make or break the squad’s trip to the Golden State.
Harvard did not get off to a good start, dropping the first set, 25-21. The Crimson responded to the pressure by winning a hard-fought second set, in which the game was tied seventeen times, by a score of 25-20. After Harvard took the third set, 25-22, the Lancers answered with a 25-20 win of their own in the fourth to set up a winner-take-all fifth set.
Cal Baptist entered this period on a hot streak, jumping to an early 4-1 lead. Harvard responded with a run of its own, bringing the score to 6-5. The teams traded the lead until Harvard broke away to end the match, 15-9. Sophomore opposite hitter Nick Madden led the Crimson with a match and career-high 27 kills. He supplemented his numbers with strong defensive play, recording a team-high 10 digs.
With the win, Harvard swept the season series with Cal Baptist, whom the Crimson beat, 3-1, in the Malkin Athletic Center on Feb. 8.
No. 8 PEPPERDINE 3, HARVARD 1
Having extended its winning streak, Harvard traveled to Malibu, Calif. on Mar. 12 to face No. 8 Pepperdine (11-9, 7-8 MPSF). The Waves captured the first two sets, 25-18 and 25-15. The storyline appeared to be a reversal of the Cal State Northridge game when Harvard rallied to take the third set, 25-22. Although the visiting team found itself down one late in the fourth set, it was too little too late. Pepperdine closed the match with a 9-1 run, winning 25-17.
“Pepperdine is a really tough team and historically they are quite good,” said sophomore outside hitter Chris Gibbons. “They have a lot of big guys who are tough to stop. I think where we lost the game is that they were a little stronger offensively than we were that day.”
While the team is happy with its overall performance, Jones believes that there are important lessons to be learned from the loss to Pepperdine.
“Pepperdine is a very strong team, but we are a little disappointed on how we started the match,” Jones said. “We let them go on an early run and we let them set the tone for the match…. The Pepperdine game is a reminder that when we face big jump servers, like Penn State, we need to keep them off service runs. Our digging has gotten better over the course of the season, but our blocking can still improve."
HARVARD 3, No. 12 CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE 1
Harvard (13-3, 3-2 EIVA) began its Golden State road trip with a tough game against Cal State Northridge (8-12. 4-9 MPSF). Ranked 12th in the nation, the Matadors posed a huge threat to the Crimson’s five-game winning streak.
Undaunted by its opponent’s high ranking, Harvard took the first two sets, 25-17 and 25-20. Cal State Northridge did not fall easily, though. The Matadors avoided being swept on their home court by winning a close third set, 25-22.
The home team carried that momentum into the fourth set, keeping the score close with an early 5-5 tie. Thanks to its strong offensive game, the Crimson was able to outlast its opponent and take the fourth and final set, 25-22. Harvard recorded a .364 hitting percentage for the day. Senior co-captain and outside hitter Matt Jones led the squad with a match-high 16 kills. The win marked the Crimson’s first win over a MPSF opponent in program history.
“I think [this trip] was a definite confidence boost for our team,” Gibbons said. “[We need confidence] playing teams like Northridge, who was ranked No. 12 when we came and beat them. So it speaks a lot to our team and the rest of the volleyball world that we can play with the best of them.”