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This Friday, the Harvard men’s volleyball team was truly a team of brothers, as the sibling combination of D.J. and Casey White led the No. 15 Crimson (5-3, 1-0 EIVA) to a 3-1 victory over Sacred Heart (2-5, 0-1) in Fairfield, Conn. The victory, which marked Harvard’s first match of conference play, furthered a four-game winning streak.
However, the outlook was far less rosy when the Crimson convened as a team moments after dropping the first set. Helped by four service aces, including three by sophomore setter Christopher Delucie, the Pioneers had yet to trail after fighting to a 25-18 win in the first set.
“In the first game, we were pretty lackadaisical,” co-captain and outside hitter D.J. White said. “There was a lot of energy on the other side of the court, and we didn’t match it.”
But when play resumed, Harvard responded with an 8-2 start. Junior outside hitter Branden Clemens highlighted this streak by winning three straight points from the service line, one of which was an ace.
On the game, D.J. White topped the Crimson in kills with 16 and came in second with eight digs. Meanwhile, Casey did the opposite, recording a team-best 11 digs and a second-best nine kills.
“We kind of think the same way on the court,” the younger White said. “I can just give him a look, and he understands what I’m telling him.... It’s nice to have a high volleyball IQ player on the court who thinks the way I do.”
D.J. came into his own in the third set, racking up six kills in the period. His offensive outburst helped Harvard open up a 12-point advantage, the largest of the game, and force the decisive fourth set.
Aside from the first game, the Crimson’s offense reached impressive heights, posting hitting percentages above .400 in the final three frames. Harvard committed 12 errors overall, while Sacred Heart racked up 23.
“Their backs were against the wall,” Casey said. “They played hard. But when we’re playing well, it’s hard for them to stop us.”
After two lopsided games, the Pioneers played the Crimson to an even 9-9 in the fourth set. An hour after seizing control of the second set, the visitors turned to Clemens again, and the outside hitter served through a 4-0 streak that built a lead that Sacred Heart could not overcome.
In a pattern common to the last four games, Harvard relied on solid blocking. Against the Pioneers, the Crimson claimed 14 rejections, including five from co-captain Caleb Zimmick.
“Our offense was pretty amazing tonight…but I think our defense was a huge part of that too,” D.J. said. “It was one of the better games for the defense.”
On the other side of the court, senior outside hitter Enzo Mackenzie bested all players with 18 kills. Junior middle blocker Travis Vonholt contributed 11 finishes to the attack.
While Delucie only nabbed five kills, the setter had an outsized impact in the first set, when Sacred Heart first built an advantage as a result of two consecutive aces from Delucie. This advantage opened up midway through the game after a 7-2 stretch laced with Harvard errors.
“We went in kind of expected to win,” Casey said. “[They] came out and punched us in the face. We had to respond…. The rest of the match, we were clicking pretty well.”
The Crimson’s last loss came against No. 11 IFPW three weekends ago. Since then, Harvard has dropped only one set, namely the first one against the Pioneers.
The White brothers have played a consistent role in this success, as D.J. and Casey are first and second respectively in overall kills. Casey also boast a team-best 3 digs per set while D.J. tops the team in points.
“We’re a confident team, but I would not say we’re overconfident,” Casey said. “We know that everyone in this league can contend, and we treat every match like that.”
—Staff writer Sam Danello can be reached at email@example.com.
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