The Harvard men’s volleyball team (12-6, 8-2 EIVA) kept itself in the hunt for the top EIVA seed as it saw off Sacred Heart (9-16, 3-8 EIVA) in straight sets. The win marked the Crimson’s seventh-straight home victory at the Malkin Athletic Center, and the sixth time in that streak the match only lasted three games. The contest was closer than the final score suggests, with the Pioneers pushing Harvard to its limits in both the second and third games.
Harvard coach Brian Baise emphasized after the game the old mantra that ‘great teams find a way to win’. Despite not playing its best, the team still pulled out the victory, a common thread in several key wins thus far this season for Harvard.
“I thought we played okay, not our best,” Baise said. “But the most important part of a successful team over the course of a season is to win when you’re not at your best. To win like that today showed a lot of composure and a lot of heart. It was a good to finish the way we did.”
Co-captain Nick Madden echoed the same sentiments after the game. The senior had picked up EIVA Defensive Player of the Week honors for three consecutive weeks entering Friday’s contest. Against Sacred Heart, the outside hitter had another fine defensive effort with a game-leading 13 digs to go along with five blocks.
“I think we came out pretty good in game one,” Madden said. “We had a few rough patches in games two and three, but we came back. I think it’s good to not be playing your best but still go out and get the win.”
After Harvard coasted to a first set win by 25-17, the crowd may have been expecting more of the same to follow. However, the Crimson was unable to ever really get its nose out in front in what was a back-and-forth second set. Service errors kept the contest closer than Harvard may have liked. Two crucial errors were committed by the White brothers as DJ, at 21-21, and Casey, with Harvard up 24-23, gifted Sacred Heart points.
In the end, the Crimson was bailed out by its opponent, who committed consecutive errors of its own after tying it up at 24 points apiece to hand Harvard the victory, 26-24.
In game three, the Crimson dropped to a 18-12 disadvantage as the Pioneers came out swinging. But facing the deficit, Harvard showed why it is the No. 15 squad in the country, as the team rallied hard for another 26-24 win.
Unable to cope with the newfound offensive momentum from the hosts, Sacred Heart found itself tied, 24 all, after holding the substantial lead and facing serves from junior DJ White. White paced the Crimson offense with 13 kills to go along with 12 digs on the defensive side of the net, his third double-double of the season. Serving for the match, he put the team on his back, and two points later, Harvard walked off the court having dug out the win.
“We made some errors,” Baise said. “Some of it was mental errors. Some of our decisions, especially in that third game, were not the kind of decisions we like to make. [In] the second game, we missed four serves, and you’re not going to win many games when you win that.”
“When we’re playing our best we don’t do those things and at this time of the year, we should have the composure to make the right decisions,” Baise added. “Everyone’s going to make errors but our mental game, I think, needs to be a little better.”
The less-than-stellar performance, while still a victory, is a small blip in an otherwise strong season for Harvard. After starting the season ranked No. 13 in the preseason poll before falling out of polls, the team has worked itself back into the rankings. The team is optimistic as it heads into the final sprint of its 2014 campaign.
“I think we have a pretty consistent offense right now,” Madden said. “We’re getting a real feel for where players are strong, and where we’re weak, and we’re capitalizing on our strengths. I think our serving is getting a lot better, and honestly, when we’re serving and passing well, as we were at points against Ball State and Ohio State [over spring break], we’re a really tough team to beat.”