Harvard Falls to New Hampshire After Five Sets of Close Play

Emily C. Wong

Sophomore Caroline Walters and the rest of the Crimson volleyball team, shown here in earlier action, fell to New Hampshire on Tuesday after dropping a decisive fifth set, 15-12, taking Harvard's overall record to 2-8.

On the heels of four straight losses, the Harvard women’s volleyball team hoped to gain some much-needed momentum before heading into Ivy League play.  The Crimson (2-8) traveled to New Hampshire (7-8) Tuesday night in what would be the team’s last match before beginning conference play against Dartmouth.

Despite a strong start, Harvard failed to pick up the victory and lost in a five-set thriller, 21-25, 25-23, 25-18, 15-25, 15-12.

“We didn’t play badly tonight,” said sophomore outside hitter Kristen Casey.  “[There were] just a couple of runs and momentum swings here and there that went against us.”

In the first game, the Wildcats got off to an early lead, taking the first point off of a service ace.  But the Crimson quickly rebounded to take a 12-8 advantage, only to find itself tied at 13-13 after a 5-1 New Hampshire run.  The game remained close, but Harvard finished out strong and rallied to a 25-21 victory.

The second set was even tighter, with neither team taking more than a two-point advantage through the first half.   The Wildcats held a narrow lead towards the end of the second set until an attack error by New Hampshire’s junior right side Destiny Tolliver squared the game, 22-22.  But a service ace by Tolliver allowed the Wildcats to walk away with a 25-23 victory.

Riding the momentum of the narrow victory, New Hampshire broke out to an early 12-6 lead in the third game and ran away with a 25-18 victory.

“The first two games were both really close,” Casey said.  “[In] the third one, they got off to a really early lead and we never quite caught up, but then we killed it in the fourth.”

The Crimson bounced back from the loss in the third game and dominated the fourth set. The Wildcats took the first point, but Harvard went on an 11-1 run later in the set, steadily building a commanding lead en route to a 25-15 decision.

With the match tied 2-2, the Crimson went into the final game looking to pull out a comeback victory. After New Hampshire took an early 9-1 lead, Harvard cut the deficit to four but could never fully recover. A kill by captain outside hitter Taylor Docter cut the Wildcats’ lead to 14-12, but New Hampshire’s freshman outside hitter Abigail Brinkman countered with a kill to win the match.

“When you go to five, it’s really anyone’s game,” Casey said.  “Whoever gets out in front has the advantage, and that’s what happened to us this game.  Hopefully in the future we can try not to let it get to the fifth game.”

Docter recorded a team-high 16 kills for the Crimson, with Casey and junior setter Natalie Doyle pacing the team with 17 digs apiece.  Junior right side Erin Cooney also added 10 kills and four digs.

The close loss was a difficult one for the team to swallow as Harvard reflects back on its rocky season so far.

“We really wanted to get the win,” Casey said. “[We wanted] to use this as an exclamation point for all the hard work we put in in the preseason.”

But in spite of the loss, the Crimson still found some positives to take away from the match as the team heads into conference play later this week.

“We were fighting all the way until the last point,” said freshman outside hitter Kathleen Wallace.  “We believed until the end that we could still come back.”

The team’s resilience was evidenced by its strong performance in the critical fourth game.  The confidence the team showed in the set was something Harvard had been searching for in its matches earlier this season.

“Despite the loss, I feel that this time, we were a different team with a very fiery, competitive spirit that we didn’t have before,” Wallace said.  “We can build off it.”

The Crimson will now begin Ivy League play, which picks up with Harvard’s first conference match this Friday night in Hanover, N.H., against the Big Green.

“We have got to keep looking forward to our week starting with playing Dartmouth on Friday,” Casey said. “That’s really what’s on our minds right now.”