The 1985 Harvard men's volley-ball team survived substantial early season turbulence to produce one of the most successful squads in the spikers' five-year history.
The Crimson closed its season with a record of 19-9; a division title, a fifth-place East Coast finish and an Ivy League Championship.
Considering all of the strife the team underwent in early spring, it's remarkable how for the spikers were able to go.
First, Crimson All-Ivy middle hitter Jon Ross was sidelined for the season by a chronic back injury. He was replaced by Richard Tyson, but the freshman unexpectedly left school for personal reasons after the first semester, before any--matches were played.
Next came sophomore Young Kim, who lasted several weeks before being suspended for missing an away match at Dartmouth--a contest that marked Harvard's first upset by the Big Green in five years. After his suspension, Kim quit the team, making way for sophomore Adam Keller.
Before this season, Keller had never played the middle position. But the sophomore was persistent, filling the ominous middle void with a stable presence.
"I think it helped just knowing that there was one person finally playing the position," said Keller. "For me, it was a learning experience. I think I played the position sufficiently--I even learned how to hit a ball down at the Ivies."
Just as the question of who would play middle began to get settled, the spikers were struck with turmoil in the setter's position.
Former Captain Terry Martin, who had run Harvard's five-one offense (five hitters and one setter) for the past two years, found himself sharing the position with junior Russell Riopelle. Coach Ihsan Gurdal tried a system involving two setters, then began alternating them in the five-one, but things just didn't work out and Martin left the team.
Riopelle improved rapidly throughout the season to become a dominating presence on the court. The junior came away from the Ivies with second team All-Ivy honors.
'Russell turned out to by one of the best setters I've played with in my four years on the team," said Co-Captain Sean Doyle, also a member of the All-Ivy second six.
"Setting was a lot of fun." "I improve a lot in particular because of Ihsan's coaching. He's a former sette himself and really helped me out with the mental aspects of the position and the responsibility that it entails."
The spikers' new starting unit was finally filled out by junior Seth Farber, who became, perhaps, the team's steadiest all-around player by the end of the season.
"We made the most of what we had," said Farber. "It got down to the seven people [the starting six plus defense specialist Bruce Cadenhead] that were really committed to making the team work."
And once the turbulence died down, those dedicated few were able to make the team work more effectively than anyone had anticipated it could.
Led by the offensively devastating senior trio of Scott Alpert, Mohan Nadkarni and Doyle, Harvard became one of the most powerful and successful teams on the East Coast, breaking Princeton's two-year, seven-match winning streak against the Crimson to become the 1985 Ivy League champions. In addition, Alpert and Nadkarni snagged All-Ivy first team honors.
"It was a very enjoyable season," said Alpert. "We established ourselves as one of the top teams on the East Coast, and proved that we had the talent to play with anyone."
"We outstripped all of our expections," Nadkarni agreed, "especially when you consider the turbulence of the early season."