After going 0-3 in two if its three tournaments to open up the season, the Harvard women’s volleyball team (2-8) heads to Dartmouth (1-8) on Friday night motivated to commence the most important part of its season: Ivy League play.
“I think we’re excited to get into league play because it is what really matters,” said sophomore outside hitter Kristen Casey, who leads the team with 116 digs. “I think we’re excited to play some familiar opponents, and I think that just adds some extra drive to win. We’re not too down right now, but just hoping that we gain something from our losses—a little motivation.”
The Crimson has gotten off to a slow start this fall, extending its losing streak to five matches in a heartbreaking loss at New Hampshire (7-8) on Tuesday night.
Not only is Harvard excited to move on, but the team also feels that a tough early slate has it prepared for conference play.
“We always traditionally have a tougher preseason,” Harvard coach Jennifer Weiss said. “We didn’t come out on the winning end in as many [matches] as we would’ve liked, but we’re definitely prepared for Ivy League play.”
The Big Green has had a similarly rough start to the season. Although it finished fourth in the Ivy League last year with an 8-6 mark in league play, the team lost four seniors and its roster is now reliant on many younger players.
Even though Dartmouth has struggled of late, the Crimson still has much to prove. It has not beaten the Big Green since 2008, losing six straight matches over that stretch.
“It’s always a good rivalry [with Dartmouth],” Casey said. “It’s always an important game for us, so it’s good we start the season there. I know we’ll be ready to go because they’re a big rival for us.”
Weiss believes that Harvard knows how to attack this Big Green team and hopes that it can exploit Dartmouth’s weaknesses.
“They’re a very defensive team, they’re scrappy, and we know what their system looks like, so we can find holes in their defense,” Weiss said. “They lost a couple of key seniors and there are freshmen in their spots, so we’re going to capitalize.”
The Crimson finished sixth in Ivy League play last year. When asked if the team is positioned to improve in conference play this season, Weiss had no reservations.
“Absolutely,” she said. “[Last year] there were a couple of matches that we lost by a couple of points. It’s coming down to the preparation and how we practice…. The goal is to improve on that 5-9 [record], and we have the ability and athletes to do so.”
Kathleen Wallace, the freshman outside hitter who ranks second on the team with 88 kills, has been a huge part of this year’s Harvard team.
“Kathleen’s been playing really well, but what’s even more impressive is that she’s been a great teammate and that she’s handled this prominent role with a lot of poise,” Casey said. “She’s just crazy athletic, jumps so high and hits so hard, and is just a huge addition to our team.”
No matter the difficulties the team has had early in the season, things seem to be looking up for the Crimson, led by senior setter Beth Kinsella and captain outside hitter Taylor Docter. Docter paces the team with 93 kills and 2.74 kills per set, while Kinsella has a team-high 163 assists on the young season.