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Men's Volleyball Heads to Playoffs with Pair Of Wins

Senior outside hitter Branden Clemens made his impact felt in his last home games with the Crimson.

Stuck in a tie for fourth at the start of the weekend, the Harvard men’s volleyball team faced all kinds of playoff scenarios as it angled to outcompete a crowded EIVA field and make the final four-team tournament.

In the end, all the different what-ifs reduced to a simple dichotomy: Win two matches, or leave empty-handed.

At home, playing in front of a crowd of students, alumni, and parents, the Crimson (13-10, 9-5 EIVA) did not leave empty-handed. With victories over Princeton and NJIT, Harvard secured third place in the conference and clinched a playoff spot.

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HARVARD 3, NJIT 1

Late in the fourth set last Saturday, sophomore setter Marko Kostich strode to the back of the court, the ball in his hands.

Above him glared a neon red scoreboard: 19-19. As he spun the ball, breathed, and hurtled to the line, the hush of the crowd signaled the gravity of the moment.

Only six points separated the Crimson from a doomsday, all-bets-are-off tiebreaker. For a team that had gone up 2-0 and needed a victory to extend its season, a fifth set was not an attractive possibility.

Kostich’s first jump serve landed in the court. So did his second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.

“Coach’s philosophy is that you have to get the first serve in,” Kostich said. “I was pretty nervous the first serve, but the other ones felt more natural.”

With each point victory, the Malkin Athletic Center grew louder. The bleachers rumbled when a kill by captain Branden Clemens pushed the score to 23-19 and threatened to collapse when Kostich recorded an ace on the next point.

Then, at 24-19, with all players and spectators on their feet, a finish by junior outside hitter Casey White sent the place berserk—and Harvard to the playoffs.

“I felt really comfortable with [Marko] at the service line,” Clemens said. “I felt that everything was going to work out.”

Heading into the final set, the Crimson needed to regroup after a mistake-marred third frame. Poor passing and late service errors by Kostich and White had dogged Harvard, resulting in a 25-20 defeat.

The fourth frame started no better, as the Highlanders (8-18, 7-7) shot to a 10-6 lead. But Clemens sparked a comeback, recording three straight kills as part of a 5-0 streak to regain the lead.

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