After a weekend away from home, the Harvard men’s volleyball team (8-4, 6-1 EIVA) returned to Cambridge to continue conference play in the friendly confines of the Malkin Athletic Center against Rutgers-Newark and NJIT, the two bottom-dwellers of the league.
With a pair of all-around efforts, the Crimson picked up straight-set victories over both NJIT (0-5, 5-6) and Rutgers-Newark (0-5, 4-7) to maintain its one-loss conference record and post its best seven game EIVA start in Harvard history.
The two victories, along with a Penn State loss on Friday to Princeton, propelled Harvard to a tie at the top of the standings halfway through the conference schedule.
HARVARD 3, NJIT 0
The Crimson rode a balanced attack on Saturday night to a 25-16, 25-19, and 25-14 straight-set win, the team’s third consecutive victory.
Harvard took advantage of consistent offensive production from brothers DJ and Casey White, who led the Crimson with a combined 29 kills. The Crimson finished with a .442 kill percentage and a .441 hit percentage, marking the team’s highest output of the season.
“Our offense was flowing really well, [and] our outside [hitters were] hitting really well,” co-captain Nick Madden said. “Our offensive hitting and service was really good. We had some great serving runs.”
Harvard seized an early lead in the contest by claiming the first set with a .577 hitting percentage that helped turn a 9-5 lead into a 13-5 margin. The advantage would never drop below six points.
The second set witnessed a more competitive game, as the Crimson men struggled to distance themselves. But a Madden kill sparked a 3-0 run that put Harvard up 18-14, a lead which the home team would never relinquish.
While the beginning of the third set followed a similar script, a kill by DJ White initiated a 6-0 run that made the score 19-11. The Crimson would seal the victory moments later.
The team coupled its offensive output with a solid defensive performance, registering 16 blocks to their opponents’ five while collecting 47 digs to just 23 by the Highlanders. Despite the convincing display, Harvard coach Brian Baise felt the team still had room for improvement.
“We’re doing a pretty good job blocking,” Baise said. “But if the ball gets by our block, I’d like to get more of those balls up. Our backcourt defense is something we’ll be working on this week.”
HARVARD 3, RUTGERS-NEWARK 0
The Crimson men started their weekend homestand with a victory over Rutgers-Newark on Friday night, as Harvard cruised to a swift 25-19, 25-15, and 25-14 straight-set victory.
The Crimson benefited from a big individual performance from senior middle blocker Will Chambers, who posted nine kills with a .727 hitting percentage. Classmate and fellow middle blocker Kyle Rehkemper also contributed six kills with a .857 percentage.
Overall, the balanced night saw nine different players record a point during the game.
“We didn’t make the errors, and we gave the other team the chance to make the errors,” Baise said. “We were good fundamentally. Our passing and our defense were good, and mentally it was a really good match for us.”
A tight first set swung in Harvard’s favor after a kill from sophomore outside hitter Branden Clemens began a 4-0 run that put the Crimson up 24-18. A service error by the Scarlet Knights closed out the set.
Harvard came out strong in the second set and controlled the tempo from the start. Another Clemens kill started a 6-0 run for the team, and Rutgers-Newark never reduced the gap to less than five.
The third set resembled the second in form, with Harvard taking advantage of an early 4-0 run to go up 6-1. Two more 5-0 runs later in the set allowed Harvard to cruise to a comfortable 11-point victory in the final game.
“It was a test of focus for sure,” Madden said. “There are teams in our league that we have to beat that just take focus. I think in any game [like that] you’re getting reps, you’re working on shots you wouldn’t try versus other teams. I think ultimately it’s a test of focus and willpower.”