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Volleyball Posts Mixed Performance Against Princeton

The Harvard men's volleyball team posted mixed results against No.14 Princeton last weekend.
The Harvard men's volleyball team posted mixed results against No.14 Princeton last weekend. By Daniel Morales Rosales
By Katharine Forst and Olivia G Stringham, Crimson Staff Writers

Despite falling to Princeton in straight-sets on Friday, the Harvard men’s volleyball team (6-5, 3-1 EIVA) bounced back against its conference foe to upset the Tigers 3-1 in the second game of the series. The Friday loss marked the end of the squad’s four-game win streak, but the team was able to find some momentum heading into more intense conference play with its Saturday comeback.

Harvard 0, Princeton 3

The Harvard men’s volleyball team fell to conference foe Princeton in three sets – 29-27, 25-16, and 25-23 – on Friday. Despite welcoming the Tigers to the Malkin Athletic Center, the Crimson squad was unable to protect its home court advantage.

“I thought [Princeton] earned the victory, they outplayed us in all of the sorta key categories,” Head Coach Brian Baise said. “Except for the first set actually, I thought we outplayed them in the first set, but once we gave that one away a little bit or let them take that one, the momentum shifted pretty heavily to their side.”

The first set was an especially electric display of volleyball, and the momentum leaned in the Crimson’s favor until the very end. Despite boasting a 24-22 lead, the squad was unable to clinch the first set victory against the Tigers. After the initial loss, Harvard couldn’t find its momentum, and Princeton handily took control of play for the rest of the evening.

The squad redeemed itself after losing in straight sets to the Tigers on Friday.
The squad redeemed itself after losing in straight sets to the Tigers on Friday. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Despite the loss, junior outside hitter Owen Fanning played a stellar game, and was lauded by both his teammate, sophomore middle blocker Brian Thomas, and Baise. Fanning notched an impressive fourteen kills, two blocks, and one ace. He made critical plays in every set, and kept the game alive.

“Fanning was by far our best offensive player. He was really what kept it close for us” Baise said.

Another player who made crucial contributions was freshman middle blocker Owen Woolbert, who subbed in off the bench in the second set. Woolbert brought a much needed energy into the third set, lighting a fire for the offense with six kills.

Despite the conference loss, the team remains optimistic about the future and about re-finding its rhythm.

“You know I think we've really improved a lot over these last two, three weekends of practice and I think the team we are now is reflected tonight,” Baise said. “We’re struggling in a lot of ways early and I think there are improvements to be made. For the most part we were still there tonight so I dont think it represents a step back for us in any way. We lost to a team that is better tonight, we'll see what happens tomorrow. I feel pretty good about the direction we’re heading.”

“I think this one is a tough one, its conference obviously, it’s Princeton, it means a lot,” Fanning added. “I think the trajectory is still upwards overall. Wins against Charleston were big for conference play, so we have to keep building from here. We need to come back tomorrow and hopefully get a win, and keep the Ivy League trophy with us.”

The team returned to the MAC with a new intensity that sent it sailing past Princeton 3-1 on Saturday.
The team returned to the MAC with a new intensity that sent it sailing past Princeton 3-1 on Saturday. By Daniel Morales Rosales

Harvard 3, Princeton 1

The Crimson squad returned to the MAC on Saturday with a newfound intensity, ready to defend its home court from the Tigers after falling short the previous day. Harvard came out swinging early in the match, besting the Tigers 25-17 in the first set.

“We came out of the Friday game with a kind of anger. Princeton was totally a team we could beat and we needed to get that done. We took the loss personally. So Saturday comes around and we know we just have to do the game plan again but execute better,” junior libero Callum Diak said. “Very little changed strategically between the two games, we just had to work harder. Our blocking was solid, and we held their best hitters to really low numbers. Meanwhile we had some very strong hitting performances out of key guys.”

Fanning continued with his stellar performance, striking paydirt early and drawing first blood for the home team. Fanning posted an impressive eight kills, two aces, and eight digs on the evening. His grittiness and intensity were evident in the first set, and his confident performance rallied his team into making the little plays that saw it pull ahead and clinch the first set.

Heading into the second, play was more deadlocked between the two opponents, but Harvard was able to secure a tight 25-23 victory to send it ahead of the Tigers by two sets. Junior outside hitter Logan Shepherd set the tone for the second set, starting off strong with a kill to put the Crimson up 1-0. Shepherd contributed both offensively and defensively, notching an impressive 13 digs – the most of any player on either side of the net – as well as eight kills and five assists.

The squad is on the road this weekend facing off against Daemon and D'Youville.
The squad is on the road this weekend facing off against Daemon and D'Youville. By Courtesy of Harvard Athletic Communications

Up by two, the Crimson team looked much more cohesive and confident than it did the previous night. Princeton was not ready to give up, however, and clawed back a set to shrink Harvard’s lead to one. The third set started off evenly, with the two squads matching each other point-for-point. However, the Tigers found a burst of energy midway through the set that sent them racing ahead of the Crimson. Tied at 11-11, a service error from Harvard sent Princeton a much-needed possession. The Tigers capitalized on the mistake, and racked up four points to increase its lead to 15-11.

An error for the Princeton squad sent possession back to Harvard, but the Crimson was only able to secure one point before Princeton struck again. The Tigers were ruthless, and on its next three possessions raced away from Harvard, extending its lead 24-14. The Crimson made a last-ditch effort to keep itself in the third set, but a service error by junior setter James Bardin sent the set in Princeton’s favor 25-17.

Despite forcing a fourth set, Princeton was unable to settle the score at two-a-piece. In the most exciting set of the night, play went back-and-forth between the two teams. Harvard was able to secure a lead midway through, but a last minute effort by the Tigers tied play at 24-24. Sophomore outside hitter Zach Berty came in clutch with a few key kills that kept the momentum in the Crimson’s favor.

“It was very exciting to win, especially with a packed gym and against our Ivy rival team who was also ranked number 14 before we played them,” Diak added. “So with everything lined up the way it was, getting to that final point and securing the win was a huge moment for all of us.”

Despite splitting the games this weekend, the squad remains optimistic about the future of its season. The Crimson already held two conference wins before Friday night, and with six conference games and a conference tournament ahead of it, the team remains in good standing to come out of this season at the top of the league. The team is heading into a competitive double-header this weekend where it will look to best Daemon University and D’Youville University, on Friday and Saturday respectively.

—Staff writer Katharine Forst can be reached at katharine.forst@thecrimson.com

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