Taking a break from conference play, the Harvard men’s volleyball team (11-6, 7-2 EIVA) traveled to Ohio to take on two ranked opponents in No.13 Ball State (15-5, 5-2 MIVA) and No. 15 Ohio State (8-12, 4-5 MIVA).
In search of its first win on the season against a ranked opponent, the Crimson fell in five sets to the Cardinals on Sunday. But Harvard accomplished the feat just two days later, as the team emerged victorious against the Buckeyes in a five-set thriller.
HARVARD 3, OHIO STATE 2
Playing its second straight non-conference game on the road, the Crimson picked up a hard fought victory over the Buckeyes, defeating Ohio State in a 3-2 decision to earn Harvard's third win over a top-15 opponent in team history.
After falling in five sets to Ball State two nights earlier, the Crimson bounced back with a balanced offensive effort against the Buckeyes to earn the 25-15, 25-19, 20-25, 21-25, and 17-15 victory at St. John’s Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
“We were as good as we’ve been all season those first two games,” Harvard coach Brian Baise said. “Then [Ohio State] started picking up its game and put pressure on us [to make it] a battle. The difference in the fifth set was we made the points [we needed to].”
The Crimson had four different players record double-digit kills on the night, spearheaded by junior outside hitter DJ White’s 13 to go along with 10 digs. Senior Kyle Rehkemper recorded 12 kills while co-captain Nick Madden and freshman Casey White each added 11.
The first set saw the Crimson take control with an 8-1 run sparked by a DJ White kill to take a 10-3 lead, an advantage which would never drop below six points. Harvard held the Buckeyes to a mere -.091 hitting percentage compared to a .429 clip for the Crimson.
The second set followed a similar storyline, as Harvard transformed a tight 9-8 set into a 21-12 lead behind a balanced distribution of kills. An ace by Casey White would seal the set for the visitors.
But the script flipped in the third set, with the Buckeyes coming out strong early on. A 7-2 run by the home team to start off the game put the Crimson in an early hole.
Harvard would manage to trim the gap to two through a 4-0 run later on in the set, but Ohio State would ultimately pull away to win the game.
The fourth stanza saw Harvard take an early advantage, which it held for the majority of the set, before the Buckeyes ultimately took control with a kill by Alex Judkins to go up 19-18. Ohio State would use a 3-0 run to go up 22-19, a lead which it would never relinquish on its way to tying the match at two sets apiece.
According to Madden, the sudden change of momentum was a result of a shift in gameplay, as the Buckeyes used a new strategy to claw back into the match.
“They started getting their offense closer to the net,” Madden said. “They stepped up their passing; we pulled off [slightly] on our serving and we couldn’t stop their offense. Overall, they picked it up and we stepped a little bit off of the gas.”
As both teams looked to claim victory, a pivotal fifth set saw both teams go back-and-forth until a Buckeye service error initiated a 3-0 run for Harvard to take an 11-8 lead.
Ohio State battled back to 15-15 but was never able to take the lead away from the Crimson. A kill by Madden followed by a block by junior Caleb Zimmick off OSU kill leader Driss Guessous sealed the victory for Harvard.
“The way we ended it was good,” Madden said. “We had Rehkemper [come up with] a huge block on the outside and Caleb had a huge block on [Guessous], who we had been unable to stop the entire game. Two big blocks on two key players down the stretch really got us the W.”
Despite the Crimson’s success against a ranked opponent, Baise believes that there is still room for improvement as the squad heads into a key stretch of the season.
“One of our weak spots is playing a complete defensive game,” Baise said. “To beat teams in the EIVA playoffs, we have to figure out a way to slow them down because when [those teams] are hitting a high percentage it puts pressure on our offense.”
BALL STATE 3, HARVARD 2
The Crimson’s weekend in Ohio began with a loss to the ranked Cardinals, as Harvard dropped a tight 3-2 match to a squad that has won eight straight contests.
Despite leading two sets to one after three stanzas, the Crimson was unable to maintain its lead, ultimately losing, 25-18, 24-26, 25-20, 19-25, and 14-16.
DJ White spearheaded the Harvard offense, as the junior posted his first double-double of the season with a career-high 26 kills and 10 digs.
The Crimson seized a commanding lead in the first set thanks to an early 4-0 run, after which the team would never relinquish the lead.
While Harvard would also take an early advantage in the second set, Ball State came back and took the set after an attack error by the Crimson.
Harvard continued the trend by once again taking an early lead in the third set with a 7-2 run to seize a 9-4 lead. Like the first game, the Crimson preserved this lead as the Cardinals failed to recover from the early hole.
The fourth set saw the Cardinals contain Harvard’s early onslaught and take a commanding 10-6 lead early on to pace the set. The Crimson could never recover as Ball State forced a final stanza.
The decisive set saw Harvard fall behind early after a 4-0 run by Ball State put the Cardinals up, 4-1. While the Crimson came back multiple times to tie the set, the team was unable to ever take the lead, eventually falling, 16-14, after an attack error.
Despite the loss, there were various bright spots for the team as several members posted career-high numbers. Along with the performance of DJ White, Madden contributed 17 kills and 16 digs to claim his seventh career double-double and third on the season.
Zimmick posted a career-best 16 kills while freshman Nick Bendell added a career-high 65 assists on the night.