On the search for consistency, the Harvard men’s volleyball took a sizable step in the right direction on Saturday with a three-set sweep of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne in Indianapolis. The Crimson (2-3) finished up their winter break road trip in style, sweeping the Mastodons 27-25, 25-22, and 25-21 respectively.
On two previous occasions, against No. 9 Lewis and No. 15 Ball State, Harvard had won the opening set only to fall short in the end. Against the Mastodons (2-2), however, it kept up the pressure and suffered no such lapse.
“We’ve come out strong in a few matches, which is a good quality,” coach Brian Baise said. “But you have to be able to sustain, so hopefully last night is a sign of a little bit of a maturing process for the team. As we get a few more games under our belt, learn who we are and what we can do, hopefully that will continue.”
Captain Branden Clemens led the charge once again, recording 14 kills to just one error with 25 total attacks for a hitting percentage of .520. It was Clemens’ best statistical performance of the season despite the fact that he took his second-fewest swings.
“I was really happy with my offensive performance yesterday,” Clemens said, whose two blocks put him ninth in program history in solo blocks. “I felt very in control throughout the game.… I know that I’m going to be getting the ball a lot, so I’m trying to reduce my errors while keeping the kills up. I felt like I was swinging a lot smarter and capitalizing on good sets.”
The first set was the tightest of the match, with the Crimson pushed to require 27 points to claim it. There were seventeen ties during the course of the set, with junior outside hitter Casey White closing the Mastodons out with a kill and service ace on back-to-back points.
White, whose brother DJ graduated last year as the team’s leader in kills, has embraced a more involved offensive role this season. He continued his strong start to the campaign with a double-double of 10 kills and 11 digs in Saturday’s match, adding two blocks, one solo, for good measure.
“He’s definitely looking to step up and play more of an offensive role, and he’s doing it,” Baise said. “He’s a really smart hitter, sees the court really well. He’s bailed us out of a lot of tough situations, so we’re definitely looking to him for a lot of our offense, and he’s responding, which is great.”
White has 50 kills and 62.5 points on the season, second only to Clemens on the team. He leads Harvard with 55 digs and boasts a .304 hitting percentage, leading all players with at least 75 total attacks.
The Crimson maintained its momentum into the second set, with captain Alec Schlossman’s kill giving them a 12-5 advantage. IPFW climbed back to within two, 20-18, but kills from freshman Trevor Dow and Clemens helped Harvard close the set out and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
On the brink of another mid-match hiccup, the Crimson were particularly ruthless on offense in the second set. It posted a .423 hitting percentage, well above the team’s .275 mark on the year. Offensive efficiency has been a trademark of good performances this season; Harvard has recorded .100, .325, and .237 hitting percentages in its three losses while hitting .474 and .398 in its two victories, a fact not lost on the coach.
“If you look at the matches we’ve won and the matches we’ve lost, hitting efficiency is key,” Baise said. You can tell a lot about how we’re playing as a team by that number.”
The Crimson continued to click in the third set, playing within its system and forcing IPFW into nine errors in a 25-21 victory.
“I really think that our offensive efficiency was primarily due to how well we were passing,” Clemens said. “We were handling their serves very well, and we were making sure that Marko, our setter, had all three of our hitting options available to him. When we are in system, we’re a tough team to beat.”
—Staff writer Manav Khandelwal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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