Last year, the Crimson fell one win short of its ultimate goal—earning a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Fast forward a year, and the Harvard women’s volleyball team found itself on a plane headed to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
For one set, the Harvard women’s volleyball team went toe-to-toe with a top five team in the country on the college game’s biggest stage.
For one moment, it looked like the dream might live on past Friday night. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
After taking down the Big Green last weekend to clinch the automatic Ivy League bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Crimson (15-11, 10-4 Ivy) sent a scare to No. 5 Nebraska (27-4, 17-3 Big Ten), winning the first set before dropping three straight en route to Harvard’s elimination.
“I’d say it was an amazing experience,” senior Kathleen Wallace said. I think I couldn’t have been prouder of how our team played. We had talked about going to the tournament for so long.”
With both teams tied at nine points apiece in the first set, junior setter Corie Bain rattled off two kills that, when coupled with two Cornhuskers attack errors, gave Harvard a four-point cushion.
Later in the set, a pair of kills from Wallace and freshman Jocelyn Meyer led a Crimson charge that brought the squad within one point of stealing a set from the Cornhuskers. After a Nebraska kill cut the Harvard lead to two, co-captain Caroline Holte slammed the door shut on the set with a kill set up by Bain.
“It honestly felt like I wasn’t even playing volleyball,” Holte said. “It felt like an out-of-body experience…. It sort of just happened without even thinking about it.”
But in the end, the Nebraska attack was too potent for the Crimson defense to handle. Four players recorded double-digit kills for the Cornhuskers, including a team-high 15 from Kadie Rolfzen. Kelly Hunter also recorded 54 assists for Nebraska, the most registered against the Crimson this year in front of the 8,000-plus fans in Lincoln.
“It felt like 13 billion people,” Holte said. “It was just so invigorating..[and] our team played so well under it. We’ve obviously never played in front of that many people before.”
After losing the first set, the Cornhuskers rattled off ten straight points to set the tone for the rest of the game. The Crimson would only be able to close the gap to seven for the rest of the set.
“I think their players have very good court awareness, they see shots on the court and are very accurate in executing them,” Wallace said. “I also think compared to other teams we played over the regular season, their stamina [was better]. They know how to play long matches.”
While the Crimson’s first set victory came as a result of clean play—Harvard notched only three errors compared to the Cornhuskers’ eight—the same could not be said about the subsequent three sets of play. The Crimson recorded 22 errors over the rest of the game to Nebraska’s dozen.
The mistakes added up, preventing the Crimson from pulling off the upset and stunning the predominantly Nebraska crowd.
The Crimson failed to get anything going offensively in the last three sets, failing to reach 20 points in any of the three after putting up 25 in the first set victory.
Bain recorded her eighth triple-double of the year in the losing effort, recording a team-high in kills and digs with 13 and 14, respectively, to go along with 19 assists.
Co-captain Hannah Schmidt ended her Crimson career with a team-high 22 assists, and senior libero Sindhu Vegesena put up 11 digs. Wallace finished with 12 kills, while Holte registered five kills and a block.
“It was a magical way to end the seniors’ four years,” Holte said. “I think it’s the best team that Harvard women’s volleyball has ever seen.... It’s a steppingstone for Harvard volleyball’s future.”
Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at email@example.com.