After a historic 2012 campaign, the Harvard men's volleyball team will open its season this weekend with two road games in the tri-state area. The Crimson squad will face the Stevens Institute of Technology (1-1) on Friday evening before taking on New York University on Saturday afternoon.
Harvard, which finished second in the EIVA behind Penn State with a 10-4 conference mark and 18-6 overall record, achieved its first national ranking last year and returns most of the major players from last season. The Crimson was picked to finish fourth in the conference in a preseason poll.
Harvard has not faced either opponent since the 2011 season. The Crimson swept Stevens, 3-0, in their last meeting but fell to NYU in five sets, 3-2. The Ducks, which compete at the DIII level, were voted to finish first in their conference, the UVC. The Violets, also members of the UVC, were chosen to finish third. Both teams are ranked in the top 15 nationally for DIII programs.
Stevens, which went 28-8 overall and a perfect 12-0 in the UVC, reached the conference finals last year, falling to Nazareth College.
The Ducks are led by a trio of outside hitters, senior Thomas Hannum, junior co-captain David Evans and junior Ryan Seifert. The group respectively had 344, 340 and 310 kills over the 2012 season. Seifert and Hannum register just under three kills per set while Evans notches 3.27 kills per set. This year, Seifert has already drilled 23 kills and Hannum has hit 21.
“They're outstanding players,” Stevens coach Patrick Dorywalski said. “Many of them could have played Division 1 but they chose Stevens because of the academics so that's a great thing for us. They're really well-skilled, talented players.”
Sophomore setter Kevin Aeckerle leads the team in assists, accumulating 989 last season and 41 thus far this year. Aeckerle and Hannum also set the defensive effort for the team. Both have 10 digs this season.
Senior middle hitter Jake Modestow is the primary blocker for the team. He tallied 173 blocks last season, the second-most in program history, and has eight this season.
The Ducks have played two games this season, dropping the first against the University of Waterloo, 3-0, while prevailing on the road against the University of Puerto Rico, 3-2.
“We only lost one of seven starters,” Dorywalski said. “I think it's going to be a great match. For a home opener, it's going to be quite a big match to start with but I think we're in good shape.”
NYU, which will open its season against Harvard, also cruised to an undefeated 11-0 UVC season last year and went 20-9 overall.
The Violets will return one of their three top hitters. Junior Nick Capriccio had the third-highest number of kills, with 257 and an average of 2.4 per set. The middle blocker also held team-highs in service aces, with 41 over the season, and blocks, tallying 69.
Veteran setter Connor Mortland dished out 876 assists last season for an average of 10.68 and will be a threat at the net.
“They're going to be pretty tough,” junior co-captain Nick Madden said. “We played them in the preseason this year and we beat them pretty handily but they were missing some key players who were all studying abroad so we have a pretty confident scouting report on them. I definitely want another shot after freshman year, so I'm excited.”
Last season, the Crimson was led in kills by outside hitter Matt Jones '12. Jones, who registered 345 kills and 3.83 per set, currently starts for Volley Bartreng, a professional team in Luxembourg. The graduate holds the all-time program record in kills, service aces, and digs.