Branden Clemens, the captain, senior outside hitter, and top attacker of the Harvard men’s volleyball team is a big guy.
He stands 6’6” and weighs nearly 200 lbs., making him roughly the size of Houston Rockets guard James Harden. In a sport that selects for supersized proportions, only one Crimson player—freshman middle blocker Trevor Dow—is significantly taller.
And when Clemens skies for a block, those dimensions seem to stretch even larger. Frozen in beanpole straightness as his armpit scrapes the eight-foot net, he might as well be a giant.
He’s a big guy. It should be no surprise that he fills up big stages.
This weekend, in a pair of matches against Princeton and NJIT, Harvard experienced what were likely the biggest stages of the year.
At stake was a whole season—or, if you prefer to go further back, four whole seasons of sweaty work. Back-to-back victories over the Tigers and the Highlanders would give the Crimson a spot in the four-team EIVA playoffs.
Two losses, or even a lone loss to NJIT, would end the year.
It was with this knowledge that Clemens laced up his shoes on Friday night. And it was with this knowledge that he unlaced them roughly 24 hours later, newly minted as a 2016 playoff contender.
“We’re a team that deserves to be in the playoffs,” Clemens said. “It’s incredible that we clinched. I’m just so happy about it.”
In both contests, Clemens—who played every second of every point—led decisive sequences that erased deficits.
Against the Tigers, the score stood at 9-8 in the second set when Clemens rose for his first jump serve. Harvard clutched a 1-0 set lead, but an early-game run by Princeton had the hosts playing catch-up.
The Crimson caught up soon enough. Over the next nine points, Clemens unloaded the longest service run of the weekend. He recorded two aces, forced two Tigers timeouts, and created an insurmountable lead. Harvard didn’t trail for the rest of the night.
The streak came on a night when Clemens led all attacking players with 10 kills and a .667 hitting percentage. Half of these finishes came in the clinching third game.
By the way, he also tied for the Harvard lead with four block assists.
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