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After clinching a spot in the EIVA semifinals with its Friday night win over St. Francis, the Harvard men’s volleyball team was on the verge of a season-defining win against No. 7 Penn State.
But after Harvard started 2-0 in University Park, Pa., the Nittany Lions came roaring back into the match, tying the game at two before taking the decisive fifth game.
With the victory, Penn State maintained its perfect conference record and broke the Crimson’s five-game winning streak.
PENN STATE 3, HARVARD 2
Riding the momentum from the previous night’s victory, Harvard (17-4, 9-3 EIVA) walked in knowing that Penn State (20-3, 13-0 EIVA) would likely be the team standing between the Crimson and a ticket to the NCAA tournament later this month.
And if the Crimson wanted to show the nation it can hang with the country’s elite teams, it did so in the first two games.
After finding his team down 12-6 early in the first set, Harvard coach Brian Baise called a timeout.
“Against a team like Penn State, you don’t come back from being down 12-6,” sophomore outside hitter Nick Madden said.
But the visitors found a way, as the squad soon began a nine-point run, capitalizing on six attack errors by the Nittany Lions to take the 16-13 lead.
After two timeouts of its own, Penn State tried to dent Harvard’s cushion. But after Madden’s service ace gave the Crimson a four-point advantage at 21-17, the teams traded points until Harvard took the first set, 25-20.
The early exchanges in the second frame were even, but at 11-11, the Crimson engineered a 4-1 run through two kills from co-captain outside hitter Matt Jones.
But the Nittany Lions did not relent and fought back to reduce the deficit to one at 21-20. Baise called a timeout to settle his team.
The timing proved prudent, as another 4-1 run handed Harvard the set, 25-21, and a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set proved to be all Penn State, as the Nittany Lions jumped out to a commanding 15-9 lead before junior setter Derek Jansma received a yellow card. From there, Penn State cruised, as Crimson attack and service errors gave the hosts a 25-13 victory and a foothold back into the match.
The Nittany Lions again took an early lead in the fourth stanza at 12-7. Though the Crimson kept it close the rest of the way, Penn State held on to take the game, 25-21, and force a fifth set.
In the final frame, the Crimson could not break Penn State’s momentum, as the EIVA’s No. 1 seed controlled the set early, running out with a 15-10 victory and another conference victory.
“If we would have been a little sharper the three games after [going up 2-0], we would have been able to take them,” Madden said. “We’ll see them again in the playoffs if we get past the first round, and we’ll see what happens.”
HARVARD 3, ST. FRANCIS 1
The Crimson began its Pennsylvania road trip in Loretto, where it put its four-game win streak to the test against St. Francis, the team chasing just behind Harvard in the league standings as the two teams head toward the EIVA playoffs.
The affair began very evenly. The Crimson and Red Flash traded throughout large parts of the opening set, with St. Francis maintaining the slightest of leads. But with the teams tied at 22, a service ace from Jones and two errors by the Red Flash allowed Harvard to take the 25-22 victory.
St. Francis fought back, grabbing a 25-22 win of its own in the second set to even the score.
But in the third frame, freshman outside hitter DJ White proved to be too much for the Red Flash. With the set even again at 21, White registered three late kills, leading the Crimson to the third-set victory. White finished the day with 20 kills, seven of which came in the third game.
“[Baise] matched me up against their setter, and it helped me get as many kills as I did,” White said. “[Junior setter] Rob [Lothman] was setting really well all night.”
Despite having to fight off a late rally from the Red Flash, Harvard took the match with a 26-24 fourth-frame win.
“We pulled it out because our defense improved and we stopped making hitting errors,” Madden said. “The only reason they were ever really in the game was because of our hitting errors.”
With the win, the Crimson has secured a spot in the EIVA tournament later this month, but the team knows the job is not done yet.
“I didn’t really expect we’d have the turnaround we did, from not winning more than a couple games in the league last year to being seeded second,” Madden said. “We’re excited, but we’re ready to work.”
—Staff writer Peter G. Cornick can be reached at email@example.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: April 9
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article attributed the quotation “Against a team like Penn State, you don’t come back from being down 12-6” to Harvard men’s volleyball coach Brian Baise. In fact, sophomore outside hitter Nick Madden said that quotation.
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