After clinching a spot in the EIVA semifinals with its Friday night win over St. Francis, the Harvard men’s volleyball team was on the verge of a season-defining win against No. 7 Penn State.
But after Harvard started 2-0 in University Park, Pa., the Nittany Lions came roaring back into the match, tying the game at two before taking the decisive fifth game.
With the victory, Penn State maintained its perfect conference record and broke the Crimson’s five-game winning streak.
PENN STATE 3, HARVARD 2
Riding the momentum from the previous night’s victory, Harvard (17-4, 9-3 EIVA) walked in knowing that Penn State (20-3, 13-0 EIVA) would likely be the team standing between the Crimson and a ticket to the NCAA tournament later this month.
And if the Crimson wanted to show the nation it can hang with the country’s elite teams, it did so in the first two games.
After finding his team down 12-6 early in the first set, Harvard coach Brian Baise called a timeout.
“Against a team like Penn State, you don’t come back from being down 12-6,” sophomore outside hitter Nick Madden said.
But the visitors found a way, as the squad soon began a nine-point run, capitalizing on six attack errors by the Nittany Lions to take the 16-13 lead.
After two timeouts of its own, Penn State tried to dent Harvard’s cushion. But after Madden’s service ace gave the Crimson a four-point advantage at 21-17, the teams traded points until Harvard took the first set, 25-20.
The early exchanges in the second frame were even, but at 11-11, the Crimson engineered a 4-1 run through two kills from co-captain outside hitter Matt Jones.
But the Nittany Lions did not relent and fought back to reduce the deficit to one at 21-20. Baise called a timeout to settle his team.
The timing proved prudent, as another 4-1 run handed Harvard the set, 25-21, and a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set proved to be all Penn State, as the Nittany Lions jumped out to a commanding 15-9 lead before junior setter Derek Jansma received a yellow card. From there, Penn State cruised, as Crimson attack and service errors gave the hosts a 25-13 victory and a foothold back into the match.
The Nittany Lions again took an early lead in the fourth stanza at 12-7. Though the Crimson kept it close the rest of the way, Penn State held on to take the game, 25-21, and force a fifth set.