For 51 straight conference games, No. 9 Penn State had dominated its EIVA foes. But that streak came to an end Friday night against the Crimson.
The Harvard men’s volleyball team got revenge against this conference rival in a historic victory at the Malkin Athletic Center. With the win, the Crimson (6-2, 2-1 EIVA) beat the Nittany Lions (9-3, 3-1 EIVA) for the first time in school history. Harvard’s three set sweep of Penn State marks the first time the Nittany Lions have lost a conference game in almost five years.
With a two set advantage, Harvard took a 19-13 lead in the third set before Penn State clawed its way back to make it 24-23. The large home crowd rose to its feet to watch what would be the final point of the match, another kill from sophomore outside hitter DJ White, who had a team-high 13 on the day.
The Crimson knew it could compete with the Nittany Lions, having taken them to five sets each of the last two times the squads had played.
“We had watched a lot of tape,” Harvard coach Brian Baise said. “We knew what they were going to do on offense and we knew that they had so many good hitters that we needed to slow them down somehow. We blocked well, and our defensive back row was great.”
White and junior libero Chris Gibbons helped lead Harvard’s strong defense as they recorded five digs apiece. Sophomore Caleb Zimmick led the team in blocks with five.
“We just took time to relax [in practice this week],” freshman hitter Branden Clemens said. “We took the time to go back and focus on the fundamentals, polish everything, and get back on our game.”
The Crimson also delivered a strong offensive performance, recording a .457 hitting percentage that was its best mark of the season.
“I thought we played an extraordinary match,” Baise said. “We made so few errors.
Our passers did a great job, which was the main thing.”
Harvard was coming off of a sloppy victory over Rivier on Feb. 5th, and it knew it would have to play better to earn a win against Penn State.
“I give the team a lot of credit,” co-captain Rob Lothman said. “I give coach a lot of credit for leading us in practice, and making [us] really fight everyday in practice this week like we were playing these guys tonight. I think that really showed on the court.”
The Crimson rolled in the second set, jumping out to a 12-6 lead. It would maintain the lead throughout the second set, winning it with ease, 25-17.
“[After the second set] we called everyone in,” the senior setter said. “And said, ‘This is the set we need to take. We cannot let this go four sets. We cannot let down and have a mental lapse right now.’ And we went out and executed.”
After falling down 16-13 in the first set, Harvard came out of a timeout and rattled off five straight points to take control. It went on to win the third frame, 25-23.