There are only two Ancient Eight schools with men’s volleyball teams—Princeton and Harvard—so to say the Crimson is the best Ivy team does not mean much.
But Harvard ended its season ranked No. 15 in the country, with senior and freshman representatives on the All-EIVA First Team, and the Bob Sweeney EIVA Coach of the Year—meaning the 2012 campaign was arguably the best in program history.
Going 18-6 overall and 10-4 in conference play, the Crimson racked up the program’s most wins in two decades and the third-most in history.
These numbers become especially impressive coming off the squad’s 2011 season in which the team had a .409 winning percentage and a dismal 1-7 conference record.
This year’s efforts were led by senior Matt Jones, a co-captain and member of the All-EIVA First Team. Jones had a team-high 3.83 kills per set—good for ninth in the nation—as well as a team-high .42 service aces per set, also ninth in the nation.
But what made Jones and the rest of the seniors truly indispensable were their roles as leaders on the team.
“I knew right away the players wanted to build a program and a team they could be proud of,” says Crimson coach Brian Baise of the senior class, which has been with him since his start at Harvard. “They’ve done that, and that makes my job a lot easier and a lot more fun. I put a lot of pride in how we compete, and the guys never let me down.”
“I think we had a bit more maturity as a team [this year],” adds junior setter Rob Lothman, who had 889 assists in the Crimson’s 24 total matches. “In past years, we had a limited amount of senior influence…. We had a lot of raw talent, but I think we lacked that refinement that comes from playing together for more than a year.”
But that said, with Harvard’s marked improvement over last year’s season, some credit is due to the team’s rookie class as well, specifically DJ White, another member of the All-EIVA First Team, and Caleb Zimmick. Before being sidelined by injury, Zimmick contributed hits and blocks at middle, while White joined Jones as an ace at outside hitter.
Harvard came together this season to pull out 3-0 and 3-2 wins against the rival Tigers and a road victory against No. 12 Cal State Northridge.
“Most of the top teams are on the West Coast, and we had a 3-1 record against West Coast teams this year,” Lothman says. “So we got a little more exposure and a little more game experience against top teams which always helps.”
In 2011, the Matadors handed the Crimson a loss in straight sets (25-16, 25-20, 25-17), but behind strong offensive performances by Jones, White, and sophomore opposite hitter Nick Madden, Harvard got retribution this year with a four-set victory (25-17, 25-20, 22-25, 25-22).
The mid-season triumph capped off a six-game winning streak and propelled the Crimson to second-place in the conference. A five-set marathon against No. 7 Penn State—despite ending in a Harvard loss—gained the Crimson even more attention at the national level and set the stage for the future of Harvard volleyball.
—Staff writer Madeleine Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.