On Senior Night at the Malkin Athletic Center, the Harvard men’s volleyball team clinched an Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association playoff spot with a four set victory over Saint Francis (10-13, 5-6 EIVA). For five graduating seniors, Saturday marked the final time they would play at home for the Crimson (13-7, 9-3 EIVA), and despite a few uneven patches, they went out proud with a win.
“There were a couple of lulls here and there, but for the most part, we were playing strong,” co-captain Chris Gibbons said. “It’s a big win for us because now we’re qualified for the playoffs, so now we can really focus on that.”
The first set was an offense-heavy affair for both sides as the two teams posted hitting percentages over .400. A 5-1 run boosted Harvard midway through the set, and the home team never looked back, holding on to take the set 25-19.
The Crimson offense remained potent through the second set while the Red Flash stuttered. Harvard’s defense took control of the game, led by the trio of freshman Nick Bendell and co-captains Nick Madden and Gibbons. With the visitors’ offense stifled, junior hitter DJ White took full advantage on his way to a game-high 15 kills on only 26 attempts. The set was never in doubt and ended in Harvard’s favor, 25-16.
“On the whole, we were passing pretty well, and our energy levels were high,” sophomore Branden Clemens said. “It felt like we were gelling as a team and our team chemistry was up.”
It felt like it was all going to be over in three, but then it was the visitors’ turn to impress. A mixture of a lapse in concentration by the Crimson and an increase in intensity from Saint Francis resulted in a blowout set win for the Red Flash, 25-18. The team that dominated the opening two sets struggled to put rallies together. Suddenly an upset was on the table.
“We had a little mishap in the third set where we lost focus a little bit and it seemed like we couldn’t put a ball away,” Clemens said. “But we really stepped things back up for the fourth set.”
After the scare that was the third set, the Crimson went out on a high in the fourth. Saint Francis was held to a lowly hitting percentage of .034 and struggled to get through the home defense. The entire set was a one-sided affair and at 24-16, senior bench player Will Chambers had his champagne moment, spiking the game-winning kill.
Aside from Chambers, the four other seniors, Gibbons, Madden, Michael Owen and Kyle Rehkemper, have all started since freshman year. For Gibbons, Saturday was a fitting farewell to his home court.
“We’ve played a lot of matches here in the MAC,” Gibbons said. “Some wins, some losses, but it’s nice to end on a win. It was a lot of fun.”
—Staff writer Julian Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.