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The Harvard women’s volleyball team took the floor on Nov. 21 with a chance for a storybook ending to its season: a win over archrival Yale to clinch a berth in the NCAA tournament in front of its home crowd. But not all perfect endings come to fruition. The Crimson fell in three tightly-contested sets and had to witness the Bulldog players and fans celebrate on the top floor of the Malkin Athletic Center.
But beyond those three sets, Harvard had sent an entirely different message to Yale throughout the course of the year: the Ivy League was no longer for the Bulldogs’ taking. The Crimson was now in on the fight.
The team’s accomplishments were not overshadowed by its final game, as the Crimson reached heights that the program had not seen in a decade. With 12 wins in the Ancient Eight this year, Harvard (19-5, 12-2 Ivy) took home a share of the Ivy League title for the second time in program history and for the first time since 2004.
Such accolades would have seemed farfetched three games into conference play, after the Crimson suffered early losses to Dartmouth and Brown. No team had won the Ivy League with three losses in the 21st century. But with its back up against the wall, Harvard fought back.
“After the game, [co-captain Kristen Casey] came into the locker room and asked what we were going to change right now so that this would never happen again,” junior Caroline Holte said. “It really changed how we operated in practice…. Without that, I don’t know if we would have changed a lot of things that were going wrong in the beginning of the season.”
Harvard not only proceeded to rattle off 11 straight wins, but did so with authority. The Crimson only dropped 10 sets in those games, which included five straight-set victories.
Two of the team’s wins came against the Bulldogs, including an emphatic straight-set win in New Haven. The Bulldogs had emerged victorious in 36 consecutive matches in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium entering the contest, but Yale failed to win a single set that night.
“Sometimes you hit your peak and you feel like nothing can get in your way,” Holte said. “That’s how we felt when we played Yale [away]. That was a highlight for the whole team.”
The other win against the Bulldogs came in a five-set nail biter in Cambridge. While most teams would tense up in these situations, the Crimson looked at ease. Harvard was undefeated in five-set matches, winning seven fifth sets on the season.
The Crimson also managed to find much more success on the road this year than it had in the past. Harvard finished 9-1 away from the MAC in 2014, compared to its 4-6 record last season.
“We came into each away game with the same focus and the same routine,” Holte said. “Our [pre-game] conversations were a lot less distracting than in the past. That was big—going into warm-ups ready.”
Several players stood out from the competition under the leadership of Ivy League Coach of the Year Jennifer Weiss. Sophomore Corie Bain earned Ivy League First Team honors, leading the conference in service aces per set, ranking fifth in assists per set, and still managing to rank 11th in kills per set. Co-captain Caroline Walters joined Bain with first team accolades, boasting a hitting percentage of over 40 percent—the highest in the league.
Junior Caroline Holte also emerged as a key cog in the Crimson rotation this year, nabbing second team distinctions. The third-year player trailed only Walters in hitting percentage while finishing second in blocks per set with 1.13.
Junior libero Sindhu Vegesena and sophomore Grace Weghorst earned honorable mentions. Vegesena recorded 407 digs on the year—good for fifth in the conference—while Weghorst ranked 13th in kills per set despite being hindered throughout the season with a lingering injury.
—Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at email@example.com.
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