After losing its first three games of the season, a trip across the river was the medicine the doctor ordered for the Harvard men’s volleyball team (1-3). The Crimson notched its first win, 3-1, over the MIT Engineers (3-1) Saturday night behind 20 blocks.
Senior Kyle Rehkemper led Harvard with six blocks on the night, a season-high for an individual Crimson player. Overall, the 20 blocks were more than the team recorded in any game in each of the previous two seasons.
“It was great getting our first win of the season just before we go into conference [play] this next week,” co-captain Chris Gibbons said. “We’ve played [MIT] every year since I have been there, and they always give us a good match. They are certainly a rival and bring a good group of fans, so it’s always a good match.”
The game did not start well for Harvard, as the eventual victors fell behind early and lost the first set, 17-25. Co-captain Nick Madden said that the team started off sluggishly and was not able to summon the same intensity it had in previous matches. It was the third time in four contests that the Crimson failed to win the first set.
“They brought a lot of fans, and from the very beginning they were playing with a lot of energy,” Madden said. “Coming off of two tough losses, we started off slow.”
The Crimson picked it up in the second set, notching 11 kills against two errors in a 25-13 win. The Engineers, after posting 10 kills and four errors in the first set, regressed in the second by registering five of each category.
After knotting the game up at one set apiece, the Crimson rode the momentum to finish off the match in four frames. Behind 13 kills, Harvard took the third set, 25-17.
In the final frame, the Crimson relied on a bevy of MIT errors—11 for the set and 26 for the match—to secure the contest with a 25-19 victory.
“Most of it was our serving and our passing, but in the second game we came out and started playing on point,” Madden said. “In the third game we were looking crisp. There were ups and downs in the fourth, but we executed our offense and played well.”
Madden said that when facing a smaller team, the Crimson was able to seize the advantage by prolonging rallies. MIT’s error count rose in every consecutive set while the Crimson committed only six of its 10 errors in the final three frames.
“I think that we served with a lot of confidence, and we had aggressive defense and covered our hitters well,” Madden said. “MIT was not as challenging of a team as the other ones we played, so it is a different style of play since they are not as tall.”
Gibbons said that coming into the contest, the team went back to basics in focusing on only the part of the game it could control—defense and serving. According to the co-captain, focusing on using the serve as a weapon instead of a way to begin points was important for the team on Saturday.
“I think that we did a lot better in terms of the serve receiver game and passing,” Gibbons said. “This week we focused on the fundamentals of passing well and playing good defense. That’s where we struggled against those two Chicago teams.”
Madden said that the team played better throughout the match when it loosened up. When it came out tight initially, the senior said, the team tried to do too much—committing nearly half of its errors for the match in the opening set.
“No matter who we play, we need to play loose and relaxed,” Madden said. “Playing loose and with confidence, especially on the serving end, will give us the ability to start well.”
Moving forward, Madden said the team cannot continue to have early lapses to begin games and place it in early holes
“With Princeton and George Mason coming in in two weeks, we can’t be dropping games to teams,” Madden said. “We need to come out strong from the first point. Letting points slip by early gives them momentum we can’t afford.”
—Staff writer David Freed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twtter at @CrimsonDPFreed.
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