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The Harvard women’s volleyball team played four games over the past two weekends against big contenders in the Ivy League. Of the four matches, the Crimson emerged victorious in only one, and the rest were nail-biters.
In the first match, Harvard (5-13, 4-6 Ivy League) fell short to the Princeton Tigers (16-3, 8-1) in four sets on Friday, October 28, in New Jersey. Going into this game, the Crimson had just come off a loss against Dartmouth, putting an end to its two-game win streak.
Harvard struggled against Princeton in the beginning of the first set, losing five consecutive points, three of which came from service aces. It took a kill from first year outside hitter Brynne Faltinsky assisted by senior captain Bella Almanza to break the Tigers’ streak.
Throughout the rest of the first set, the two teams battled back and forth, exchanging leads, before the Tigers ultimately pulled through to take the first set 25-18. In the second set, the Crimson struck back, taking the set, 25-20, off a kill from Faltinsky. The entire set was a team effort, nevertheless, with great efforts including junior middle hitter Olivia Cooper’s two aces and two kills. Cooper hit three aces on the match, a career-high.
After ending the second set on a high note, Harvard faced challenges in the third, which culminated in a 12-point deficit to end the set. The fourth set was even more of a struggle, with the Crimson falling 14 points behind the Tigers to seal the match.
After this disappointing outcome against Princeton, Harvard bounced back in its next match against Penn (2-18, 1-11) the next day. The sets were all close, with the scoreline never reaching a gap of more than six points. The Quakers took the first set, 25-19, but the Crimson quickly regained its composure and took over the rest of the match, dominating Penn and winning the next three sets. Almanza led the team in kills and assists with 13 and 23, respectively. In addition, junior middle blocker Ava Rauser made a big impact on the game, earning the Crimson another 13 kills: a career-high.
After a victorious Saturday, Harvard returned home to the Malkin Athletic Center the next weekend to duel with Columbia (5-15, 2-9). The Lions lead off the first set, earning themselves a five point lead, 13-8. However, the hosts quickly fought back, not only tying the score but also surpassing Columbia with the help of two kills from Almanza and one from both Rauser and junior outside hitter Katie Vorhies. Despite a back-and-forth fight for the rest of the set, the Crimson eventually fell, 25-21.
The second set proved to be much more successful for Harvard, with Columbia never getting a lead. The Crimson eventually won the second set with a whopping nine point lead, 25-16. The third set saw the return of deadlock and the score being much closer between the two teams. The Crimson and Columbia tied the set at 21-21 before the latter pulled away with a four-point run to win the set. Columbia carried its momentum into the fourth set, even achieving a seven point lead and seemingly taking the set and match. However, the Crimson soon retaliated and managed to claw its way back, tying the Lions once again at 21-21. In the next six points, Columbia regained its footing and took four of them to seal the match with a 25-23 finish.
After this hard-fought loss to the Lions, the Crimson took on Cornell (5-16, 3-9) on its senior night. Three seniors were honored during the game: Almanza, outside attacker Kate Condra, and right-side attacker Jaimie Rao. Condra helped the Crimson overcome Penn, assisting the team with one ace and six digs. Rao played against Dartmouth at the beginning of the season, earning the team two kills, but has not played since due to injury.
The first set got off to a rough start for Harvard, with the Big Red shutting the team out for the first six points of the match, three of which were aces. Harvard eventually caught up, however, and even tied the Big Red 21-21. Just like Columbia, Cornell broke away for a first set result of 25-23 over the Crimson. The second set proved to be more of a struggle for Harvard, as it dropped this bout, 25-17. Harvard was not to go down with a fight, however, as it struck back in the third set by taking it with a six point advantage.
At the beginning of the fourth set, it seemed to be an even battle. However, as the set progressed, Cornell took control, largely in part to a seven point run. With this streak, there was no going back, as the Big Red closed out the match with a 25-14 shutdown.
The Harvard women’s volleyball season, which has faced its fair share of challenges, has two final matches this upcoming weekend. The Crimson is set to face off against Brown (12-9, 8-4) this Friday, November 11th, as well as Yale (19-2, 11-1) the following day. Harvard is ranked fifth in the Ivy League, meaning it falls just one spot short of being in the Ivy League Volleyball Tournament. Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Yale have secured the four spots, with Princeton and Yale being the most likely contenders for the No. 1 seed spot.
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