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The Harvard men's volleyball team continued to struggle this weekend, losing to Princeton 15-8, 15-2, 15-2. The loss, which brings Harvard's overall record to 4-12 (0-4 Eastern Conference) is the team's ninth in its last ten games, the sole win coming against Yale's club team.
What made this loss particularly painful was the fact that Princeton, perennially one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, was by no means unbeatable.
"We lost the game; they didn't beat us," freshman David Michaels said. "We didn't have a middle attack so they just camped out on our outside hitters. It wasn't them doing spectacular things--it was us sucking."
The first game saw a perhaps over-confident Princeton team win an unimpressive set against an under-confident Harvard squad. Unlike earlier Harvard opponents, Princeton was not showcasing any overpowering jump-servers or running indecipherable formations.
Until midway through that first game, Harvard was siding out well and the game remained close. But then mistakes on the Crimson side of the net allowed the Tigers to take over.
"Our defense was bad, our blocking was bad, we couldn't get the ball over the net, and our passing was bad so we couldn't run the middle," Michaels said. "There's nothing that went right as far as I can see."
Once the Crimson lost the first game, it lacked the confidence to show much of anything in the last two, in which the Tigers dominated through mediocrity.
"We actually started out pretty well in each game," freshman Kalon Morris said. "[But] in all of the games we let them get off a big run that put the game out of reach."
The main problem was the passing, which has been a big focus for the Crimson this year. Passing by the setters is important because it sets up the middle hitters--a crucial part of the offense.
In the victory over Yale, coach Ihsan Gurdal experimented with different setting formations, often using both senior Abbas Hyderi and sophomore Evan Beachy in the setter role.
"Until our passing improves, there isn't much room for bright spots," co-captain Abbas Hyderi said.
Against Princeton, Harvard was forced by to use a lineup of just one setter, Beachy, and it did not seem to help the passing game. And the bad passing, combined with miscommunication caused by shifting line-ups and mental lapses, led to the blowout loss.
"A lot of people just didn't have their heads in the game," sophomore Jim Rothschild said. "Once things reached the point where things weren't going right, our coach tried to change the lineups a bit and that just led to confusion."
Despite Harvard's discouraging record and lackluster play, the beauty of an end-of-season tournament is that Harvard still has a chance at an Ivy League title. The one-day tournament features a rather vulnerable Ivy League field, and an upset-minded Crimson could ruffle some feathers.
Winning the tournament is the only lingering hope for the Crimson. But that won't happen unless Harvard can pick up some victories to bolster its confidence.
"We need to learn how to win," Michaels said. "The only thing to do after something like this is look ahead."
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