Despite missing junior co-captain Nick Madden to injury, the No. 15 Harvard men’s volleyball team continued its streak of dominance this week, earning its third and fourth consecutive straight-set victories over NJIT (3-10, 1-3 EIVA) and Rutgers-Newark (2-6, 0-4), respectively.
The Crimson (9-2, 5-1) entered the weekend fresh off of a historic victory last Friday over conference foe and then-No. 9 Penn State.
“I think it is easy to get on a big high after a big win like that and to lose focus and to look past some of your other opponents,” co-captain Rob Lothman said.
With Madden out, freshman Branden Clemens moved from his usual outside hitter position to right side attacker, and junior Michael Owen started at outside hitter.
“I think Branden stepped up and filled my position really well,” Madden said. “I think Michael Owen really stepped up too, because he had to fill Branden’s position.”
HARVARD 3, RUTGERS-NEWARK 0
After sweeping NJIT on Friday, Harvard carried its momentum into Saturday’s matchup at Rutgers-Newark.
“Saturday, we were primarily focused on our half of the court,” Lothman said. “We had done some scouting of Rutgers, so we felt pretty confident that we knew what they had to bring against us.”
Harvard was down, 14-11, in the third set before going on a 14-4 run to close out the match.
“We were able to keep the pressure on them late,” Lothman said. “When we got into those late game situations, we were able to score the points that mattered.”
Outstanding play by Clemens sparked the victory, which keeps Harvard just a half game behind the first place Nittany Lions in the EIVA. The freshman had 12 kills as part of an impressive .625 hitting percentage on the day. He also tallied three aces, three digs, and two blocks.
“On Saturday, [Branden] was definitely a major outlet,” Lothman said. “I felt really confident that anytime I threw the ball back, Branden would get the kill.”
Lothman handed out 20 assists and led the team in blocks with four. Sophomore hitter DJ White and sophomore blocker Caleb Zimmick each recorded eight kills. Harvard won the first set with ease, ending on a 9-3 run to take it, 25-15.
The second frame was close the entire way with nine ties in the set. To close out the stanza, Owen and White registered back-to-back kills to give the Crimson the set, 28-26.
“It was a touch-and-go match,” Lothman said. “We came out really strong early, and we won the first game by a pretty wide margin…. We didn’t play great defense, but I think the offense was clicking for the entire match.”