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It may now seem like the distant past to the Harvard men’s volleyball team, but little more than just a month ago, the Crimson stood at 0-9, still searching for its first victory six weeks into the season.
But things changed rather quickly.
Since then, Harvard (5-12, 3-1 EIVA Hay) has been on a tear, going 5-3 overall and 3-0 in conference play—good for second place in its division.
“I think this type of performance is something we’ve expected and been looking forward to all season,” said co-captain Gil Weintraub, whose team is currently riding a three-game winning streak. “We’re peaking at the right time.”
This weekend, the Crimson will have the opportunity to show just how far it has come.
Heading on the road to take on first-place Rutgers-Newark (10-11, 6-0 EIVA Hay) and NYU (4-17, 0-6 EIVA Hay), Harvard can go a long way toward challenging for the spot atop the division standings and securing one of two playoff berths.
“To have a chance to win league, we have to beat Rutgers-Newark,” said sophomore Matt Jones, whose team has only four conference games remaining. “Every game from here on out is huge. We have to go at least 3 for 4 [to make the playoffs].”
While the Crimson has just recently been experimenting with success, winning is something Rutgers-Newark has been doing all season.
In addition to their undefeated conference record, the Raiders defeated No. 9 Penn St. in four sets nearly two weeks ago.
“They’ve had a great streak recently,” Weintraub said. “For us to beat them, we have to put all the pieces to the puzzle together.”
Recent history is also against Harvard, as the Crimson was swept by Rutgers-Newark earlier this season.
In that contest, Harvard was broken down by a balanced Raiders attack, which saw three different players finish with double-digit kills.
Rutgers-Newark’s powerful attack is led by sophomore Marcin Midura, a strong outside hitter who averages 3.74 kills per set.
The Crimson plans to slow down its opponent’s attack by playing solid defense up the middle, while taking care to distribute the wealth on the offensive end.
“I think we need to be very balanced offensively because they’re a good blocking team,” Jones said. “The outside has been getting a lot of sets. We really need to be able to run a balanced offense, setting all three positions.”
Much of this burden will fall on the shoulders of freshman setter Rob Lothman, who has been having success as of late, averaging 50.3 assists per match over the past three contests.
But while the Crimson has been strategically preparing for its Friday contest, the team knows its second opponent, NYU, cannot be overlooked. Despite their winless conference record, the Violets are a dangerous team, having taken sets off of Princeton and Sacred Heart in recent contests.
“NYU always brings their best play for us,” Weintraub said. “I would argue that the NYU game is equally important if not more important [than the Rutgers-Newark game]. If we get to the playoffs we can do everything we want and more. Beating NYU is the first step to that.”
Harvard defeated the Violets earlier this season, taking the contest in four sets thanks to clutch play down the stretch from co-captain Erik Kuld. The win kick-started the team’s current winning streak.
The Crimson hopes it will have the services this weekend of its other co-captain, Weintraub, who paces Harvard with 2.17 kills and 6.88 assists per set. Weintraub sat out his team’s past two contests with a pulled groin.
According to the veteran, it is unclear which games, if any, he will be medically cleared for this weekend.
“[Having Weintraub play is] essential,” Jones said. “Obviously we can win either way but having Gil will help a lot. That’s an understatement.”
—Staff writer Martin Kessler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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