The Harvard men’s volleyball team (9-5, 7-2 EIVA) went on the road this weekend to take on conference foes George Mason (8-8, 4-4) and Princeton (7-7, 6-2). The Patriots and Tigers have provided tests for the Crimson in years past, and this weekend was no different.
George Mason dominated the visiting Harvard men in a straight-sets victory on Friday night before the Crimson ended a six-match win streak for Princeton, overcoming its Ivy rivals in a five-set thriller in New Jersey.
HARVARD 3, PRINCETON 2
Harvard and Princeton are the only Ivy schools with varsity men’s volleyball teams. Over the last few years, especially as both teams have established themselves as EIVA contenders, a real rivalry has developed between the two squads.
Crimson coach Brian Baise was himself a Tiger undergrad once upon a time. And when Harvard visited Dillon Gym on Saturday, the home crowd was out in full force for the occasion.
“I think there’s been a rivalry for the last couple of years,” co-captain Nick Madden said. “They’re the only other Ivy school in our league. It’s definitely going to be a really tough match every time we play them, and they brought a lot of fans today. We love the rivalry; it brings the energy up. It’s easy to play on the road when there’s a lot of people bringing the energy of the gym up.”
Both teams are near the top of the EIVA standings, and the game could very well have previewed a future playoff matchup. On Saturday, both sides played their hearts out.
The two squads traded sets—Princeton won the first and third and Harvard took the second and fourth—to set up the decisive fifth game. Even then there was nothing to separate the two combatants as neither team ever led by more than one until the score was 12-12, with both sides just three points from victory.
“It was pretty awesome,” co-captain Chris Gibbons said. “The four years that I have been here, we always go at it with Princeton. Almost all of the matches we’ve played against them have gone to five, and we usually have ended up on top and we did it again on Saturday. So we’re pretty excited to get that win.”
At 12-12 in the fifth, it was the Crimson’s mettle which prevailed. With nothing separating the two teams all day, Harvard pulled away with a 3-0 run to win the match, ending with a service ace from freshman Nick Bendell.
“I think that both teams were playing really well, and we sort of exchanged games throughout the match,” Gibbons said. “What it came down to in the very end, we made a few less mistakes than Princeton did and we were able to take advantage of the mistakes they made and find a way to win at the end of the match.”
There were a number of excellent individual performance on each side, with the Tigers’ Cody Kessel and Pat Schwagler pacing both squads with 16 kills on the night.
But the Crimson captains especially stood out. Gibbons had a team-high 15 digs, and Madden posted his sixth career double-double with 10 kills and 11 digs.
“[It was a] pretty good fight on our part, particularly after last night [against George Mason],” Madden said. “We started to get some blocks and some defensive plays, and that was really the key to winning that one. We served decently well and we just played a good style, making some scrappy tough plays towards the end there.”
GEORGE MASON 3, HARVARD 0
When these two squads met earlier in the season, Harvard ran out as the victors in straight sets. But on Friday night, the Patriots completely reversed that result and dispatched its visitors in three games.
“I think Friday night, not much was going well for us,” Gibbons said. “I’m not sure if we weren’t fully ready to play or what exactly it was, but George Mason played a good match and it was mainly just a lot of errors on our side and a failure to execute.”
Madden pointed to the squad’s defense as the missing component against the Patriots. In a statistical rarity, the Crimson was unable to post a single block as the George Mason offense simply ran the show.
“We didn’t have a single block which reflects that our defense could have been a lot sharper,” Madden said. “We were serving decently well, but our defense wasn’t great. I think George Mason played really well. All around, though, just not a great game for us.”
—Staff writer Julian Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.