The Harvard men’s volleyball team (15-7, 11-3 EIVA) closed out its regular season this weekend with wins over NJIT (9-16, 2-10) and Rutgers-Newark (9-15, 1-11). The victories clinch the No. 2 seed for the Crimson in the EIVA postseason tournament, which begins in two weeks.
Despite playing the bottom two opponents in the EIVA, Harvard won neither game as smoothly as expected. Both matches went to four sets, and the Crimson collectively suffered a dip in form. Sophomore outside hitter Branden Clemens said that the weekend was a wake-up call for the team as it heads into postseason preparation.
“[The weekend] was kind of a reality check,” Clemens said. “We can’t take any team lightly and we can’t take any point lightly because we always need to be focused and pumped up for every point, no matter who is on the other side of the net.”
HARVARD 3, RUTGERS-NEWARK 1
Rutgers-Newark has only won one conference game this season but came out swinging on Saturday afternoon, stunning the Crimson by taking the first set. The Scarlet Raiders led throughout the set, spearheaded by freshman phenom Jose Mendez, who led both teams with 17 kills on the day. Harvard managed to keep it close early on, but with the score at 22-21 in its opponent’s favor, errors cost the Crimson dearly. Freshman Casey White had two attack errors at the wrong time, and the underdogs clinched the first set.
“We struggled a little bit on Saturday,” co-captain Nick Madden said. “We should not have dropped a game to them.”
Harvard was still not playing the volleyball it was accustomed to through the next two sets. The Crimson hit only .176 in the second and .286 in the third, unable to get into the rhythm which has defined the team at its best.
Ultimately, when it came down to the wire in each set, the Crimson prevailed. Tied at 22 in the second, two clutch kills by Clemens tied the match at one set apiece. The third was even tighter, going all the way to 25-25 before Harvard’s offensive stalwarts, Caleb Zimmick and DJ White, spiked a kill apiece to put the Crimson within one of victory.
The fourth game was when Harvard finally separated itself from its opponents, putting the home team away and clinching the match.
“It took us a little while to figure out our attack and our defense,” Madden said. “When we figured it out in that fourth game, we just rolled over them. It took us a while but we put it together.”
The offense jumped up a gear in the fourth—hitting .448—and the defense held the Scarlet Raiders to an anemic .061. Accordingly, the Crimson ran away to win it, 25-15. Co-captain Chris Gibbons had a strong performance on the day, notching 20 digs amidst what was overall an average Harvard performance.
HARVARD 3, NJIT 1
NJIT was yet another team that the Crimson would have expected to blow by, but that was not the case on Friday evening.
Harvard hit well throughout the match, including a strong performance by DJ White, who hit 16 kills at an efficient .500 clip.
However, a lack of energy on the defensive side of the net proved to be an early equalizer, with the Highlanders able to hang with Harvard’s high-flying offense.