In its trip to the Coal State this weekend, the Harvard men’s volleyball team struck gold on the first night but came up just short the day after.
On Friday night in Loretto, Pa., the Crimson (3-1, 1-1 EIVA) opened conference play with a strong statement, downing Saint Francis (1-6, 0-1) in straight sets.
Despite suffering an early setback with an injury to sophomore outside hitter DJ White, Harvard managed to pull out each set and preserve its undefeated record.
“It was big. It was our first league win,” said junior middle blocker Kyle Rehkemper. “It was nice to start with a ‘W’. We played a little bit sloppy in the beginning, but we cleaned it up and settled through pretty much the rest of the game. To get a win after a little adversity like that felt good.”
The Crimson faced a much tougher opponent in No. 6 Penn State on Saturday afternoon. Although Harvard battled to force a deciding fifth game in University Park, Pa., the Nittany Lions (9-1, 2-0) ultimately prevailed to seal the 3-2 Crimson defeat.
“It’s a loss to a good team,” said junior co-captain Nick Madden. “I think it showed us exactly what it’s going to take to get out there and compete and win our league. That’s going to be serves, serve receiving, and swinging high and hard off the block.”
PENN STATE 3, HARVARD 2
When Harvard captured the fourth set by a score of 25-16 to even the match at two sets apiece, the Crimson looked to have Penn State on the ropes.
But a strong Nittany Lions squad stormed right back in the final game, jumping out to an early lead and never looking back en route to a 15-6 win that sealed the conference showdown.
Harvard registered a game-high 13 kills in the fourth set, but strong serves from Penn State forced the Crimson into a defensive position in the fifth. The team mustered only a single kill in the game.
“I think the biggest [problem] was our serve receive,” Madden said. “We had a couple hitting errors, but I think for the most part they served really well, and we didn’t really put hittable balls up. I don’t think it was so much attacking in the fifth game as it was defense and receiving.”
A number of players came up big for Harvard on the offensive end. Madden contributed solid play in multiple aspects of the game, ranking first on the team with nine kills and also posting seven digs and six blocks.
Junior outside hitter Michael Owen and sophomore middle blocker Caleb Zimmick followed closely behind Madden with eight kills apiece, and freshman outside hitter Branden Clemens had seven kills from the perimeter.
“[Our attacking depth] helps us a lot,” Madden said. “We definitely were able to capitalize in the middle tonight. Our middles absolutely killed it. It makes it really hard on the defense because if they’re one-on-one blocking everywhere, we have a much higher-percentage chance of getting kills.”
Penn State managed to snatch a tight first set by a score of 25-23, but the Crimson battled back in the second game to even the score at one set apiece. The teams split the third and fourth games to set up the decisive fifth.