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The Harvard women’s volleyball team accomplished everything that it had to do this weekend to keep pace with the top teams in the Ivy League. The embattled squad first took down a pesky Brown unit that dealt the Crimson one of its two conference losses last season in a five-set nailbiter. The team then went on the next day to take down five-time defending conference champion Yale without the services of freshman Christina Cornelius, who is third in the conference in hitting percentage and first in blocks per set.
But for as critical a weekend that was for the Crimson, the team does not have the privilege to dwell on its past success.
With Dartmouth tied for the conference lead with Harvard and the Bulldogs and Penn lurking one game behind, any pace slower than winning out poses a significant risk to the team’s chances of repeating as Ivy League champions.
“It’s tough to keep the same level of excitement for every match, especially when we are playing teams at the bottom of the conference,” Kebe said. “But…losing to [Dartmouth] just shows us that no team should be taken lightly.”
Such a mantra will be needed as the team hits the road for the first time in Ivy League play to take on Columbia and Cornell to finish the first leg of its conference slate.
The team has not played an official away game this year.
The Crimson has only participated in three neutral site games, all three of which were losses in the Service Academy Challenge at the Pentagon.
Road play was a significant strength for Harvard last year, with its one road loss coming in the team’s first conference tilt against Dartmouth.
From there, the team won its final six road games of the year.
The year prior was a different story, however, with the team only managing four wins in 10 matches on the road.
“It is different being on the road,” Kebe said. “We do have a little less time to prepare…. But other than that, we try to treat each game the same.”
The Crimson is preparing to take on its New York foes without the services of Cornelius, who is still rehabbing from her ankle injury she incurred last weekend against Brown.
Cornelius’s presence is a big part of the Crimson gameplan, as she and co-captain Caroline Holte are first and second, respectively, in the Ivy League in blocks per game.
The duo’s presence at the net has caused headaches for opponents all season.
Critical to the Crimson’s push back to the top of the Ivy League has been the play of senior Kathleen Wallace, who made a huge leap going into her final year at Harvard.
She ranks first on the Crimson and eighth in the conference in kills per set. Her game has also expanded past just an attacking prowess, as Wallace has recorded career highs in assists and digs per set.
“I truly believe that she is one the best outside hitters in the Ivy League,” Holte said. “She’s improved every facet of her game. Her service [play has] been incredible…. I am so thankful for [her] improving every part of her game, not just the flashy parts.”
Columbia will be Harvard’s first task this weekend.
The Lions had struggled coming into last weekend, but were able to snap a three-game losing skid against Penn on Saturday, which halted the Quakers from nabbing a share of the conference lead.
Junior Zoe Jacobs was a big reason Columbia was able to pull off the small upset, notching 17 kills in only four sets. The next-closest player only had eight on the night.
The third-year star ranks seventh in kills per set in the conference, just edging Wallace.
Senior Bailey Springer caused fits for the Crimson last year, notching 22 kills—just three shy of her career high—against Harvard last season.
Harvard finishes the first portion of its Ivy League schedule against perhaps its weakest opponent in Cornell, which has yet to notch a win in conference play.
In its five games against Ancient Eight opponents, the Big Red has only won four sets.
Sophomore Emily Wemhoff looks to have to play a key role in upsetting the Crimson on Saturday, as she’s led Cornell in kills per set with just over two-and-a-half per game.
“Every team deserves our respect and attention,” Kebe said. “We tried to prepare for Cornell and Columbia just like we’d prepare for Brown and Yale.”
Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at email@example.com.
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