The Harvard men’s volleyball team (7-10, EIVA 4-4) rebounded Friday night after going 0-3 on a tough road visit to the Golden State two weeks ago. The Crimson dominated the Sacred Heart Pioneers (12-7, EIVA 5-3) at home in three straight sets. The match ended with set scores of 25-23, 25-12, 25-21.
Harvard appeared to find its groove midway through the match, and used its momentum to propel itself to a fourth conference victory. Upperclassman to freshman provided valuable play as strong defense coupled by aggressive offense overwhelmed the visiting Pioneers in the Malkin Center.
“It was a really good match for us all around,” coach Brian Baise said. “I think [the Pioneers] are a really good team. They had beaten us three weeks ago and they have a great defense and some guys that can really hit the ball. So I knew we had to be sharp and we were. Our setters were great, we served confidently and put the pressure on them and I felt really good about that.”
The Crimson flexed its defensive muscles, both literally and figuratively, in the second set as Harvard won by a double digit margin. After going point-for-point, the Crimson’s defense resembled more of a wall as seemingly every Pioneer attempt was blocked. Harvard collected 8.5 blocks in the second set alone.
Junior blocker Riley Moore, who led the team with seven blocks, and freshman setter Matthew Ctvrtlik, who closed the match with five blocks, led the second set defensive effort. Ctvrtlik collected three blocks for three straight points extending the second set margin to seven points. Captain outside hitter Casey White would cap off the set with two kills and three blocks as the Crimson cruised to a second set victory.
Sacred Heart would end the set with a hitting percentage of -.214 and having committed 14 errors.
“I thought we were serving and passing really well,” Moore said. “We looked really clean, especially after losing all three matches in California last week. It was good to come back and get a win in three.”
The challenging road trip to California presented Harvard the opportunity to look in the mirror and evaluate its issues. After nearly coming away with major upsets in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, matches where the Crimson were unable to sustain its leads, Harvard took the tough losses as learning experiences for how to approach future matches.
“We played a great match with Santa Barbara, and we couldn’t close, and we were good against USC and those are two top-15 teams,” coach Baise said. “Even though we didn’t get the wins I felt like we were playing some good volleyball, and I think that helps a lot. Just seeing those serves and those guys, both [teams] have really good size and I think coming back helped a lot.”
The learning experiences paid off for the Crimson, especially in the third and final set, when the Pioneers showed late signs of life. When Sacred Heart minimized errors and earned 12 kills, however, the battle-tested Harvard team responded to the momentum shift and completed the three set sweep with a strong offensive game. A kill and an ace by White for the final two points eliminated any hope for the Pioneers to mount a comeback.
The Crimson not only played with intensity, but with a relaxed demeanor of a strong and cohesive unit.
“I think that we’re really close as a team,” Moore said. “I think that spending a lot of time together off the court, building character as a unit, really helps and really shows on the court. So when we’re making big plays and having fun with each other it just helps us stay loose and focus on the game and not get too tight.”
Harvard, which is ranked fifth in EIVA standings, may make a late season push if it can take this game and build off it in the coming weeks.
—Staff writer Stuart Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.