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Harvard men’s volleyball (4-3, 3-0 EIVA) outplayed George Mason (4-6, 0-2 EIVA) on Sunday afternoon in its most dominant performance thus far this season. It completed a rare sweep of George Mason and Princeton, two traditional conference powers, to place the Crimson as the frontrunner to dethrone Penn State in the EIVA.
George Mason was blown away in straight sets as Harvard posted a season-best hitting percentage of .390. In the past, the Patriots have had the Crimson’s number, winning both of the past two meetings at the Malkin Athletic Center. Co-captain Nick Madden said it was satisfying to finally best the team’s conference foe.
“[Winning] meant a lot,” Madden said. “We haven’t beat George Mason at home since I’ve been at Harvard and it’s huge to get a win. It was awesome to go out and win in straight games.”
Senior libero and other co-captain Chris Gibbons said he was also particularly pleased to have overcome a team that recently has been one of Harvard’s toughest opponents.
“George Mason is a team that has been really good in the past and has given us some trouble in recent years,” Gibbons said. “They’ve always given us some tough competition so it was really good to get the win against them and go to 3-0 in the league.”
Whilst the sets were close throughout, from the beginning the Crimson established it was the better team on the day. Some strong serving from junior DJ White started the Crimson off in emphatic fashion as it leapt out to a 6-2 lead and never looked back, maintaining a steady advantage as it took the first 25-22.
From there things only got better for Harvard, with the second set—according to Gibbons—arguably the best volleyball the Crimson has played all season. A very fluid and persistent offensive game resulted in a hitting percentage of .682. The offensive potency was combined with extreme diligence and accuracy—Harvard had not a single error in the second set, cruising to victory as the Patriots had simply no answer to the home team’s attack.
Gibbons credited the efficacy of the performance to both excellent execution on fundamentals and a strategy tailored to George Mason’s weaknesses.
“I think that we focused a lot on what we were doing on our side,” Gibbons said. “We were focused on passing well and running our offense in order to take advantage of any weaknesses we had scouted on their side as well as playing defense very well. We got a lot of touches on their hits, blocked really well, and picked up a lot of balls in terms of defensive digs and stuff like that so we just made a lot of plays on our side of the net.”
Madden also noted that exploiting the opponent’s weaknesses was a key to the victory. Often the Harvard service game, a weakness for the team in recent weeks, was able to target poorer defensive players with great success. The Crimson served eight aces to the Patriots’ two during the entire match.
“We served really well and they struggled with receiving because our serves were on point targeting their weaker passers,” Madden said. “Our offense was also in rhythm and just performing at a really high level.”
After the high level of performance in the first two sets, the quality sagged in the third as both teams struggled to get their offenses going. Both teams posted their lowest hitting percentages on the day, with .133 and .167 for the home and away teams respectively.
As the play became sloppier, Harvard relied on their defense to close the game out. Gibbons and White led both team with seven digs apiece as the Patriots could only post 21 digs to the Crimson’s 28. Junior Caleb Zimmick also contributed a valuable five blocks on the day as Harvard scrapped its way to the finish line by 25-23.
George Mason is now back at 0-2 in EIVA play after making the playoffs last year. However, looking forward for the Crimson comes a very difficult back-to-back weekend against St. Francis and Penn State, last year’s league champion.
However, Madden said, if Harvard can perform consistently at the level it did in the second set, there’s no telling what the ceiling might be for the team.
“I think we are positioned pretty well,” Madden said. “Next weekend will be very telling. St. Francis is a lot better than they were last year and is definitely a contender for top four in our league and then Penn State has won our league for the past 18 years. They are the team to beat this year and we’re trying to do it.”
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