This weekend's Harvard Invitational would seem like the calm before the storm for Harvard's women's volleyball team. The meet comes one week before the climax of the team's season, the Ivy League Championship, and will have virtually no bearing on Ivy League regular season standings.
But don't try to convince the team of that. The squad is looking at the meet as one of the most important of the season, for both sentimental and practical reasons.
"This is definitely not a meet that we are blowing off," senior Zaire Dinzey said. "We've played a lot of games this season in a lot of places, but we see this as being one of our most important.
"First, it will be a home tournament, a chance for us to play before a home crowd," she added. "And, in addition, it is our last meet before next weekend's league meet. It is our last chance to fine tune our skills in a pressure situation."
Just how many "pressure situations" the team, will be in this weekend is up for debate. The meet will feature a few strong teams. Princeton and Hartford among them, but even more cream puffs--Wagner and Dartmouth, among them.
The Crimson suffered losses to Princeton, 3-0, on October 8, and to Hartford, 3-2 at the Hartford tournament on October 22, but beat both Dartmouth and Wagner by 3-0 counts on October 18 and October 23, respectively.
Of the teams competing in the tournament, Princeton looks to be the favorite. The Tigers are on top of the Ivy League at the present, sporting a 17-4 overall record and a 7-0 record in league play. The squad has won seven games in a row. Its last loss was to Delaware on October 15.
"I think it's pretty fair to say that Princeton is the meet favorite," Dinzey said. "They should not have any problems making it to the finals."
The Crimson's goal is to face-off against the Tigers in those final and pull off the Ivy League upset of the year.
"We're pretty confident that we can at least get to the finals," Dinzey said. "It's not going to be easy, but we're hoping that we can then win the tournament. That would be a great boost before next weekend."
Volleyball aficionados may laugh at the thought of the Crimson beating the Tigers, but given the team's improvement so far this season, a big upset is not outside the realm of possibility.
Early in the season, the Crimson had problems. Struggling to incorporate a number of solid freshman into its line-up, it lost six of its first eight games. It has improved gradually all season, though, and has won five of its last ten contests.
"We've definitely been getting better," Dinzey said. "With each game and with each practice we seem to make real strides, right up until yesterday's (Thursday's) practice, which was one of the best practices I have seen."
Zaire is a senior who had to sit out her freshman and junior years due to injuries. She has, however, watched the team grow over the years. Never has it been so good.
"There's no comparison, absolutely no comparison," Dinzey said. "This is the best team we've had by far. It's a different program now. And that's a good thing."
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