Even the best of teams can play down to the level of their competition, and even the lowliest of teams can play up to it.
Which of these categories befits the Harvard women's volleyball team (2-6, 0-0 Ivy) remains to be seen. Last night at the Malkin Athletic Center, the Crimson fell in three straight games last night, 15-13, 15-5, 15-8, to a beatable Massachusetts (UMass) team. The loss came in Harvard's first match since returning from a weekend trip to California in which, despite an 0-4 record, it hung tough with several strong teams.
Although the Minutewomen (4-7, 1-1 Atlantic 10) did not drop a game, the match hinged on the first game, which could have gone to either team.
"The first game could have gone either way, and it went theirs," said Harvard Coach Jennifer Weiss. "But we still should have rallied in the second and the third games."
UMass jumped to an early 6-1 lead in the game, but the Crimson stormed back. Co-captain Kate Nash's service ace at 4-6 capped a 4-0 Crimson run, part of a larger 9-1 run that gave Harvard a 10-7 lead.
The Crimson held a 13-11 advantage before the Minutewomen rattled off four straight to take the game. The final run, which came after a well-utilized UMass timeout, included three successive kills by junior middle-blocker Jill Meyers, and was capped by an ace that nicked the back line.
Meyers--who racked up nine kills on the evening to up her team-leading season total to 148--and a strong service game by the Minutewomen caused the Crimson fits throughout the match. UMass recorded 10 aces--with just six service errors--to the Crimson's four aces and nine such errors.
Once the first game was in the books, Harvard was lethargic for the remainder. The Minutewomen took the second game with nary a fight, and were helped in the third game by a 6-0 run midway through that gave them an 11-5 lead.
"You could tell in the first game that even though we were down 6-1 we were still earning points, and while we were still earning points, we were close to winning the game," Weiss said. "But we made a lot of mistakes and kind of let them control the pace."
Sophomore middle-hitter Katherine Hart led both teams with 10 kills and effectively led the Crimson with a .304 hitting percentage. Nash and fellow co-captain Melissa Forcum led Harvard with nine digs apiece.
This weekend the Crimson takes its 2-6 mark into the Harvard Classic, a four-team tournament in which it will lock horns with Pittsburgh, St. John's and Manhattan. The Classic represents one of two weekends Weiss will have to right the ship before the start of Ivy play in October.
"We've started out with this kind of record before, with these upperclassmen, and we ended up rallying in the Ivy League tournament," Weiss said.
Whether the team can repeat its feat of two years ago--when it overcame a 1-5 start to finish with a .500 record and take second at the league tournament--depends on which of its recent incarnations is the true Harvard.
The Harvard that took powerhouse Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo to five games on the West Coast may be up to the task, but the one that folded to UMass after one game is surely not.
"We've scheduled a lot of tough teams early, but it's only going to make us better," Weiss said.