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In a Wednesday night contest against Springfield, the Harvard men’s volleyball team took little time to return to form after an 11-day break, claiming a 3-1 victory in a bit over an hour.
Despite the early appearance that the Crimson (9-5) would cruise to a straight-set victory after taking the first two frames, Springfield (14-6) responded with a convincing third-game victory.
However, the comeback effort proved futile as Harvard opened the fourth set on a 7-1 tear and soon closed out the match in the Malkin Athletic Center.
For the Pride, the third frame ended with an emphatic sound: the collective roar of the Springfield team celebrating a 25-20 set victory.
“We got a little shaky in the third,” Harvard coach Brian Baise said. “That was a turning point in the wrong direction. We lost a little bit of focus.”
Eight points later, this roar had become a whisper. On the strength of three Pride errors and two kills from co-captain Caleb Zimmick, the Crimson raced to a 7-1 advantage. Although Springfield cut the lead to one at 11-10, the gap would prove insurmountable as the Pride never regained the lead and conceded the frame, 25-21.
On the night, three Harvard players hit to double-digit kill totals. Co-captain D.J. White passed his squad with 13, and Zimmick and junior outside hitter Branden Clemens pitched in 11 and 10, respectively.
The match got off to a contested start with both teams trading blows until Harvard created some separation, taking a 20-16 advantage. The Crimson held the lead and closed out the frame, 25-20.
“We came out fast,” Zimmick said. “We haven’t played for a week and half... but we didn’t seem to be rusty at all.”
Well-practiced or not, Harvard looked overmatched for parts of the third set, when the Pride built a 20-12 lead. The Crimson’s kill percentage plummeted to .111 in the game, compared to an overall mark of .363.
“We were making more errors,” Zimmick said. “When we made one, we made a second, which you can’t really do. That opened up the gap over a couple different servers.”
Harvard found new life at the end of the frame, narrowing the nine-point margin to a 24-20 gap. However, a sloppy offensive sequence gave Springfield the opportunity to bang home the final point and secure its first set of the match.
In the teams’ only previous meeting of the season, a February matchup at the Hall of Fame Classic, the Pride had also salvaged a game victory as part of a 3-1 Crimson win.
In that game, Springfield took the second frame, but on Wednesday night, Harvard had different plans for how the game would go.
In the second game, the Crimson used a kill-heavy run to turn a 7-3 disadvantage into an 18-12 lead. The onslaught kept coming until the final point, and the 25-16 set finish marked the largest margin of the evening.
Junior right side hitter Greg Woods paced the Pride offense with with 11 kills. Although freshman outside hitter Ricardo Padilla Ayala notched 10 of his own, the team ended with a .239 hitting efficiency.
Harvard’s defense was a major explanation for Springfield’s offensive struggles. The Crimson racked up 18 blocks while the Pride compiled nine. Clemens, freshman middle blocker Brad Gretsch, and sophomore setter Nick Bendell each finished with four block assists.
In addition to contributing the defense, Bendell directed the Harvard offense throughout the night. At times his back-sets presented difficulties for Springfield, and the setter led all players with 37 assists.
The Crimson was seeking to rebound from the team’s most recent match, a 3-1 defeat against the league-leading Nittany Lions two weekends ago. That loss dropped Harvard out of the NCAA top 15, a position that the Crimson had held intermittently throughout the season.
“We put some pressure on [Springfield],” Baise said. “We served well…. That’s the kind of character test that’s important.”
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