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Despite missing junior co-captain Nick Madden to injury, the No. 15 Harvard men’s volleyball team continued its streak of dominance this week, earning its third and fourth consecutive straight-set victories over NJIT (3-10, 1-3 EIVA) and Rutgers-Newark (2-6, 0-4), respectively.
The Crimson (9-2, 5-1) entered the weekend fresh off of a historic victory last Friday over conference foe and then-No. 9 Penn State.
“I think it is easy to get on a big high after a big win like that and to lose focus and to look past some of your other opponents,” co-captain Rob Lothman said.
With Madden out, freshman Branden Clemens moved from his usual outside hitter position to right side attacker, and junior Michael Owen started at outside hitter.
“I think Branden stepped up and filled my position really well,” Madden said. “I think Michael Owen really stepped up too, because he had to fill Branden’s position.”
HARVARD 3, RUTGERS-NEWARK 0
After sweeping NJIT on Friday, Harvard carried its momentum into Saturday’s matchup at Rutgers-Newark.
“Saturday, we were primarily focused on our half of the court,” Lothman said. “We had done some scouting of Rutgers, so we felt pretty confident that we knew what they had to bring against us.”
Harvard was down, 14-11, in the third set before going on a 14-4 run to close out the match.
“We were able to keep the pressure on them late,” Lothman said. “When we got into those late game situations, we were able to score the points that mattered.”
Outstanding play by Clemens sparked the victory, which keeps Harvard just a half game behind the first place Nittany Lions in the EIVA. The freshman had 12 kills as part of an impressive .625 hitting percentage on the day. He also tallied three aces, three digs, and two blocks.
“On Saturday, [Branden] was definitely a major outlet,” Lothman said. “I felt really confident that anytime I threw the ball back, Branden would get the kill.”
Lothman handed out 20 assists and led the team in blocks with four. Sophomore hitter DJ White and sophomore blocker Caleb Zimmick each recorded eight kills. Harvard won the first set with ease, ending on a 9-3 run to take it, 25-15.
The second frame was close the entire way with nine ties in the set. To close out the stanza, Owen and White registered back-to-back kills to give the Crimson the set, 28-26.
“It was a touch-and-go match,” Lothman said. “We came out really strong early, and we won the first game by a pretty wide margin…. We didn’t play great defense, but I think the offense was clicking for the entire match.”
HARVARD 3, NJIT 0
The Crimson started the weekend’s road trip with a three-set victory over NJIT.
“We had lost to NJIT the last two years at their place,” Madden said. “I think we were pretty fired up going into the game, and it definitely showed.”
Harvard held a 22-18 lead late in the third set, but the Highlanders came back to tie it at 23-all. The Crimson responded well to the run, however, and took the next two points to take the third stanza, 25-23, and win the match.
“We had a little bit of a mental lapse [in the third set],” Lothman said. “Obviously you want to make sure your focus is maintained throughout the match, but it is good to know that we can come back and get the points that matter.”
Harvard opened the contest brightly, taking the first frame, 25-20, on a kill by White.
“Friday, we started the match strong,” Lothman said. “We didn’t play great defense, but we hit well enough that we were able to take that first game with a pretty commanding margin.”
Owen had two aces as part of a seven-point run in the middle of the second set, which the Crimson won convincingly, 25-14.
“We served pretty tough, and we passed really well,” Madden said. “Serving was our biggest strength that game, and we were ready to go.”
White, named the AVCA National Player of the Week for his performances last weekend, led Harvard’s attack again with nine kills and a .353 hitting percentage. Clemens trailed him closely with eight kills and a .455 hitting percentage, while Owen had six kills, three aces, and four digs.
“Two days in a row, we were able to come out and get the points that mattered and win both matches three to nothing,” Lothman said. “That is always good. That is always what you look to do.”
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