In its opening game of the season, the Harvard men’s volleyball team repeated its 2011 performance against the Stevens Institute of Technology and swept the Ducks (1-2), 3-0.
Sophomore outside hitter DJ White led the scoring effort for the Crimson (1-0), notching a game-high 19 kills on 29 attack attempts and recording a hitting percentage of .552 along the way. White was just one kill short of his season-high from last year. He also provided one of the team’s two service aces.
“I feel great but it’s a team game,” White said. “Rob [Lothman] played really well and set me up nicely. Chris [Gibbons] was a big help passing, he was nails all night. I think that really helped my performance.”
It was a strong collegiate debut for freshman Branden Clemens, who saw time in all three sets at outside hitter. Clemens had five kills over nine attempts and dove for five digs, second-highest on the team behind junior co-captain Nick Madden who had eight.
“There’s a lot of responsibility in his position,” Harvard coach Brian Baise said. “He’s receiving serves but Rob, our setter, did a good job of putting the ball where he likes it. He’s a really experienced player even for a freshman and I think it showed that he was able to come into this kind of environment and play the way he did.”
Lothman, who is also a co-captain, handed out 35 of the team’s 43 assists on the night.
The Crimson, which had a team-wide kill percentage of .348, held Stevens to just .169 percent hitting and three successful blocks. The Ducks’ offensive effort was largely driven by junior outside hitter Ryan Seifert, who had 11 kills on the night over his 27 attack attempts. Seifert also committed a game-high six errors.
Senior outside hitter Thomas Hannum, last season’s leading scorer for Stevens, registered just five kills and a hitting percentage of .200 on Friday night. Hannum had hit 14 kills in his squad’s last game and held a team-high kill percentage of .316.
The first set started out with back-and-forth scoring between the two teams, until a kill by Clemens gave Harvard its first multi-point lead, 15-13. From there, the Crimson extended its lead to as large as five as White drilled kill after kill. While a first set point saw a service error by junior middle blocker Kyle Rehkemper, the second was successful, as Madden attacked and the Ducks provided a block error to give Harvard the set, 25-20.
“I think our defense could have been a little bit better early on but I thought we were pretty efficient in the way we played,” Baise explained.
The second frame was more dominant for the Crimson. A team effort created a 9-1 run for Harvard and set up a 16-7 lead. The two teams would trade off in scoring, but three final kills by White gave the Crimson the second set, 25-16. Harvard tallied a kill percentage of .406 during the set.
“Last year we kind of had a let down after game one,” White said. “We used to really run game ones and then lose out, so this year I’m trying to keep momentum through the second and third games since those are usually the biggest ones.”
While Stevens jumped to a slim advantage, 5-3, in the third set, the Crimson turned the tables with a 6-2 run and would never relinquish the lead. At the close of the final stanza, a block by junior Michael Owen gave Harvard its 23rd point and a kill by sophomore Caleb Zimmick would push the game to match point. Despite a final attack from Seifert, Zimmick put it away, assisted by senior setter Derek Jansma, and the Crimson won the match, 25-20.
“I was really happy to see that we settled into a rhythm,” Baise said. “I knew we would get there. We’ve been real good in practice. I didn’t know if it would be tonight but really by game two we were the team we’ve been working to put out there.”
—Staff writer Cordelia F. Mendez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.