The plane ride may have been smooth, but the playing was smoother.
After enjoying the uncharacteristic luxury of air travel en route to an EIVA matchup against George Mason (8-10, 3-3 EIVA) in Washington, DC, the Harvard men’s volleyball team (10-8, 4-2) dominated from the moment that it stepped on the tarmac. By holding the Patriots to a .047 hitting efficiency, the Crimson earned a 3-1 victory and kept pace with second-place Princeton.
“Shorter travel helps us out a lot, whether it’s physically with rest or mentally just not being cooped up on a bus for a long time,” co-captain Caleb Zimmick said. “That helped us to come out and play well from the beginning.”
The most extended sequence of weakness for Harvard came at the end of the second set, when the Crimson gave up a 6-0 run that transformed a 20-16 advantage into a 22-20 deficit. Despite staving off three set points, Harvard dropped the frame, 26-24.
But the Crimson responded right away in the next frame, using a 9-5 start to create separation. Again the set came down to a late run, but this time it was Harvard that pulled together in the end, cruising to a 25-18 win on the wake of an 8-1 stretch.
Then, and throughout the afternoon, defense was key to the Crimson’s success. Over the last nine points of the frame, Zimmick and junior outside hitter Branden Clemens each tallied a block.
“Our defensive played really well tonight,” Clemens said. “Midway through the third set, there was [that] blocking run, and that helped us get going.”
On the afternoon, Harvard earned 14 rejections. Zimmick, who leads the team with 77 total blocks, racked up three assisted and three unassisted ones.
“He’s very quick and a hard worker,” Clemens said. “Being 6’9” doesn’t hurt either.”
The defense proved stifling in the deciding set, when the Crimson held George Mason to a perfect .000 kill percentage. By contrast, Harvard recorded a game-high .524 mark in the frame.
The statistical discrepancy accurately described the imbalance of play. After winning the first two points, the Crimson never faced a deficit and won six of the last seven to end the set with a 25-15 victory.
We probably played one of our more complete matches of the season,” Zimmick said. “Our defense was really what carried us tonight. It was great to see that.”
As a complement to the defense, Clemens put up seven finishes in the frame. He scored 17 kills on the afternoon, more than any other player on the court.
Both captains also finished with double-digit finish totals. Zimmick notched 12 while senior outside hitter D.J. White added 10.
Harvard needed every part of this three-pronged attack to ward off the Patriots in the first set. George Mason, which entered the contest tied with the Crimson in the EIVA standings, never fell behind by more than four.
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