Over the past five seasons, women’s volleyball has had just one losing season, and has not finished below .500 in conference play during that entire span. That lone disappointing campaign occurred in the fall of 2016, when the squad went 7-7 against Ivy teams and just 3-8 versus the rest of the field. Last season, the team showed signs of improvement, as it boosted its overall record to 13-10 and completed the fall tied for third in the Ancient Eight.
Perhaps most impressive was the Crimson’s come-from-behind win over Yale on the road on Nov. 3. The Bulldogs were a frontrunner in the conference, and after Harvard jumped out to a lead in the first game, Yale fought back to capture the ensuing two. With no room for error, the Crimson battled out two consecutive set wins of its own, both of which required tiebreakers.
Despite losing its next two matches that November, Harvard closed out its 2017 season with a 3-1 victory over Penn. Now, the Crimson’s task is to improve for a second straight year in a crowded field of Ivy League volleyball teams.
The 2018 season started slowly for Harvard, as the team dropped all three matches of the Michigan Invitational, albeit against tough competition including No. 23 Michigan. However, the Crimson bounced back at this weekend’s Fairfield Invitational as it prepares for its first home game this Thursday against Boston College.
HARVARD 3, FAIRFIELD 1
In the finale, Harvard took down the Stags on their home court and recorded its second win in as many days.
The Crimson comfortably prevailed in each of its three set wins, twice by a margin of six points and once by nine. In the last set, Harvard took 11 of the final 16 points to seal the contest and close out its weekend at the invitational. Each team recorded 42 kills, but errors are what set the two squads apart: the visitors racked up 19, while Fairfield picked up 32.
Middle blocker Christina Cornelius had an outstanding game at the net. She was credited with 12 of the team’s 42 kills and committed just one error, which came on a reception. The senior also led the team with three blocks, two of which were solo efforts, and notched the second-most digs (eight).
Cornelius has been a key contributor in Crimson for three-plus seasons. She has averaged 2.32 kills per set over the course of her career, has totaled 326 blocks, and owns an attacking percentage of .264. The start of her final season in Cambridge has been no exception. For her efforts in the Fairfield Invitational, Cornelius was named to the All-Tournament team. Across all three contests, the veteran middle blocker added 33 kills, 22 digs, and nine blocks.
Junior middle blocker Maclaine Fields added onto Cornelius’ dominance by tallying eight kills of her own, and senior libero Anna Uhr notched nearly 20 digs.
The freshman class proved necessary in this matchup. Classmates Kate Condra, Bella Almanza, and Grace Varsames combined for 12 kills and 37 assists. Three of the nine players who saw the court in the tournament finale were rookies.
Two Stags notched double-digit kills (Mayda Garcia and Laura Seeger), and Alexis Rich tallied nearly all of Fairfield’s assists (35 of 40).
MICHIGAN STATE 3, HARVARD 0
Harvard ran into a hot Michigan State team in Saturday’s opener and succumbed in straight sets to the Spartans (9-1).
The Crimson had its best showing in the second game, which it lost, 25-21. Michigan State triumphed fairly easily in the other two—it won the first, 25-13, and picked up a nine-point victory in the final set. No Harvard player recorded double-digit kills, and aside from Cornelius’ seven, no one recorded more than three. Condra posted an impressive .429 attack percentage with seven total chances, as she picked up three kills and did not commit an error.
The Spartans found a good deal of success at the net. Only Meredith Norris and Julia Hatcher posted individual blocks, but the team also had 14 block assists. On the other hand, Cornelius had Harvard’s lone individual block, and the other nine players in the lineup combined for four block assists.
Four of Harvard’s five freshmen saw the court in this contest against a formidable opponent. Almanza recorded two kills, three digs, and one block assist, and Almanza and Varsames combined for 18 assists.
Michigan State’s lone loss came in its season opener at Tennessee, where it lost, 3-1. Since then, the Spartans have only lost three total sets, including no more than one in any match. Michigan State is the owner of a nine-game winning streak—the most recent three wins came in the form of a weekend sweep at the Fairfield Invitational.
This was the second game all-time that Harvard has played against Michigan State, and it has now dropped both. The other matchup happened on Sept. 8, 2007, when the Spartans defeated the Crimson, 3-1, at the Harvard Invitational.
HARVARD 3, CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE 2
Harvard’s most dramatic game of the weekend came in the opener. Unlike its easy dispatching of Fairfield or its quick loss to Michigan State, the Crimson battled with Central Connecticut State down to the final set.
This was no back-and-forth affair, either. After Harvard lost the first two sets by a combined 10 points, it rallied to take the third by a score of 25-20. However, it appeared as though the Blue Devils had the upper hand near the end of the fourth game. With a 23-21 lead, Central Connecticut State needed two points for a win and just one to force the game to go beyond the customary 25 points.
The Crimson had other plans in mind. It quickly tied the game at 23 apiece with the aid of an attacking error and a ball handling error from the Blue Devils. Then, Almanza came up in the clutch with two kills to steal the set.
Central Connecticut State kept it close in the deciding set, but its best position of the game was a 1-1 tie. After the first two points, Harvard maintained a lead until the ultimate 15-12 conclusion. In this crucial fifth game, the Crimson did not commit an error.
For the only time this weekend, Cornelius did not pace the squad in kills. That distinction went to Fields, who totaled 20. Cornelius added 14 of her own, and the team finished with an even 60. Fields’ .486 attack percentage was the highest among all players with more than one total attempt.
Once again, Almanza set up her teammates very well as she posted 30 assists. Fellow freshman Varsames and sophomore Mindie Mabry earned two aces apiece; the team ended the match with eight total aces. Three players posted high dig totals—sophomore Sandra Zang had 12, Mabry added 15, and Uhr collected an even 20.
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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