After leading point-getter DJ White went down with an injury last week against No. 6 Penn State, Harvard reshuffled its lineup with junior Michael “Big Cat” Owen, above, and freshman Branden Clemens getting more minutes.
The Harvard men’s volleyball team sure didn’t look like it belonged in the hall of fame in its first game on Friday against Loyola. But after two consecutive losses—one against the Ramblers and another the week before against No. 6 Penn State—the Crimson bounced back to finish its weekend victorious.
The team traveled across the state to Springfield, Mass. to take on Loyola (6-5) and Juniata (4-2) in the Hall of Fame Morgan Classic, hosted by Springfield College. Harvard (5-2, 1-1 EIVA) split its matches on the weekend, as the Crimson downed the Eagles in the consolation match, 3-1, after the Ramblers bested Harvard in the same number of sets.
“I thought that we played pretty well this weekend, but we definitely could have played a lot better,” said freshman outside hitter Branden Clemens. “We didn’t have our best game against Loyola. We could have served better and played better overall defense. I just thought that we were playing kind of sloppy compared to how we played last week up against Penn State.”
In the loss against the Nittany Lions last week, the Crimson suffered another setback—the loss of DJ White, the team’s leader in points per set, to an injury that will bench the sophomore outside hitter for a couple of weeks. White’s injury is something that Clemens acknowledges as a gap that the team is attempting to fill.
“It’s been very different and challenging because DJ’s a leader on the court and he’s a really great player,” Clemens said. “It’s been a transitioning period because we’re trying to get used to not having him on the court. I switched over to L1 and [junior outside hitter] Mike [Owen] stepped in as L2. Mike’s been playing really great, and I think overall we’ve been trying to keep ourselves pumped and stay focused, and I think everyone’s stepped up to try to be more of a leader and pull more weight because of losing DJ.”
HARVARD 3, JUNIATA 1
After losing three straight sets to Loyola the night before, the Crimson wavered in the consolation game before ultimately coming out victorious.
Harvard capitalized on errors by the Eagles and only trailed once in the first set, winning it 25-16. But it looked as though the Crimson had faltered as Juniata built a seven-point lead in the second, 20-13, and never looked back, taking the set, 25-22.
“I think at that point it was all mental,” said junior outside hitter Nick Madden. “It was us on our side of the net, making mistakes and errors, and we knew that if we cleaned up our serving and cleaned up our hitting errors, we’d roll over them, and that’s what we did.”
Harvard led for the majority of the final two sets before winning them in decisive fashion, 25-17 and 25-13.
Clemens tallied 19 kills on the night, a career-high for the rookie, while Madden registered a team-high 20. The team showed off its defense as well, as junior libero Chris Gibbons recorded 13 digs en route to holding Juniata to a 0.075 hitting percentage.
LOYOLA 3, HARVARD 1
The Crimson began its trip west with a turn down south as the team lost three sets after winning the first one.
“I think overall, we didn’t play as well as we played during the first set,” Clemens said. “Our passing wasn’t as good, and in our attacking, we were making more errors. Their playing beefed up a lot, too, so it was kind of switched—they weren’t playing as well in the first set when we were playing well, and then after the first set, we weren’t playing as well and they stepped it up.”
Harvard never trailed in the first set and looked dominant as it won, 25-16. But the tables turned on the Crimson in the next three sets as the team never managed to take a lead in the second half of any of the final sets, losing them, 18-25, 21-25, and 18-25.
After losing a tough-fought match to a top-ranked team the week before, 3-2, Madden noted the disappointment of falling to a team that he thought Harvard was capable of beating.
“Juniata for sure was not as good as Penn State, and I would also say that Loyola wasn’t as good as Penn State,” Madden said. “I feel like we played Penn State a lot harder—if we had played at the level that we had played with against Penn State, we would have won both games this weekend.”
Clemens led the team in offense with 15 kills while Gibbons spearheaded the defensive effort with six digs.
—Staff writer Samantha Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @linsamnity.