One game into the Ivy League schedule, the defending conference champions find themselves in a familiar position.
But it is one that the Harvard women’s volleyball squad would prefer not to be in.
After taking the first set of its Ivy League opener by a commanding margin, the Crimson only managed to take one of the next four, falling to Dartmouth in five sets in the first match of a five-game homestand at the Malkin Athletic Center on Friday.
“The loss was the motivating factor that is necessary for us to push forward to success,” junior Corie Bain said. “Looking back [to last season], we really needed a game like that as a wake up call….. It was a painful learning lesson but one that I think will determine the outcome of our season.”
A four-point run in the final set by the Big Green broke a 7-7 tie and handed a sizable lead to the visiting contingent. But the Crimson brought the deficit to within one point, giving Harvard a chance to tie the game at 14 and force tiebreaking points in the tiebreaking set. But a service error elicited silence from the home crowd and shrieks from the Big Green, ending any chance of completing the comeback.
The Big Green came within range of ending the match in the fourth set, needing only one more point to tie it at 24 points apiece. But Bain set up senior Kathleen Wallace for the set-winning kill to force a fifth and final set.
While the Crimson was able to win two sets, the team ultimately could not slow down the Dartmouth offense, which was led by junior Emily Astarita. The Setauket, N.Y., native and All-Ivy honorable mention led the team with 23 kills. Captain Kaira Lujan followed behind with 14 of her own.
That offense was in full display during the second and third sets of the match. when Astarita recorded 15 of her 23 kills, just shy of half of her team’s total kills during that stretch.
For Harvard, a team that only lost three regular contributors from last year, the middle sets of the game were defined by inexperience. Injuries to junior Grace Weghorst and senior Kathleen Wallace jumbled the lineup construction, limited their action, and forced players out of their natural positions at some points during the game. Several times, an inability to communicate led to unforced errors that ended up being costly.
Freshman Christina Cornelius perhaps played beyond her years, tying junior Grace Weghorst for the team-high in kills with 13, despite only attacking a total of 22 times. The rookie also provided defense in the middle, leading the team with six blocks.
“I think our freshmen stepped up and carried our team throughout the game,” Bain said. “They have a presence on the court that is fresh and new and that is something we upperclassmen need to embrace and mimic in our own play.”
Sophomore Caroline Labanowski has recently been thrust into a prominent role on offense as well, setting her career-high in total attacks in both of her last two matches. The second-year notched double-digit kills for the first time in her career in the loss. Sophomore Paige Kebe, on the other hand, had trouble getting things going, only playing in two sets and recording a lone kill.
“She’ll continue to grow each year,” co-captain Holte said. “I’m excited to watch.”
The match began much differently than how it ended. After playing Dartmouth close for the early portion of the first set, the Crimson went on a 9-1 run to extend its lead to 19-10, whence the team cruised on to win the first set. The later four sets passed by with a different narrative.
The early season loss will have big implications for the Ivy League title chase going forward. No team has won the Ivy League with more than two losses in the new millennium.
“Our team is approaching practice this week as our top priority,” Bain said. “We are [taking] extra hours to train and solidify our foundation as well as altering our mentality to focus on one of our mottos of the season: Success is the only option. This loss has proven to us how much we care.”
—Staff writer Kurt Bullard can be reached at email@example.com.
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