For the past 11 seasons, Penn State has exercised a strict hegemony on the EIVA men’s volleyball title. Over the course of that decade-plus of first place finishes, the Nittany Lions have shared the title but never once finished below the top spot. This weekend, however, the juggernaut no longer commands the title. Harvard does.
With victories over Saint Francis and Penn State this weekend, the Crimson now controls its own destiny heading into the final stretch of the season.
“This win meant a ton to our team, as it validated all of the hard work we had put in and gives us confidence as we head towards playoffs that we can compete with the best teams,” captain Riley Moore said. “It was also a very special win for the seniors as this was our last chance to beat Penn State, and being able to do it at home in front of family and friends made it even more special.”
HARVARD 3, PENN STATE 2
The Crimson (9-11, 8-2 EIVA) has squared up against the Nittany Lions (12-9, 7-3) for 30 years, often multiple times per season. Prior to Saturday, Harvard had managed to best Penn State just once over that span.
This weekend, in the well-attended Malkin Athletic Center, the Crimson reversed history and downed its long-time opponent in five sets to claim its third straight win.
Moore dominated at the net for his team, tallying a career-high and team-best 14 kills—four more than his previous season-best, notched the game prior. The senior’s zero errors, a feat achieved by Moore for the sixth time this season, allowed him to rack up a hitting percentage of .875.
Harvard initially jumped up two games, 25-13 and 32-30. The hot start was quickly curtailed by the Nittany Lions, who clapped back with two wins, 25-27 and 16-25.
The final set started as a back-and-forth affair. The two squads traded one-point leads and eventually evened out at 6-6. From there, the Crimson took control, achieving a 12-9 lead before finishing off the set, 15-12. And just like that, the 2018 team added its name to a list previously populated by just a single Harvard men’s volleyball team, the 2014 squad.
“In the fifth set Coach [Brian] Baise put it on the seniors to make sure we pulled through and got this victory for the team,” Moore said. “I think we took that confidence he put in us and used it to finish out the match.”
Senior Brad Gretsch managed his second double-double of the season, adding 13 kills, nine digs and two aces to the stat book. Senior Marko Kostich and sophomore Matthew Ctvrtlik both managed to break 20 assists with 29 and 22, respectively. Junior Trevor Dow led the team in kills, tallying a season best nine and zero errors. The junior served as the vanguard of the defense with seven blocks, three of which were solo. Overall, the Crimson out-blocked its opponent at the net, 18-19.
The meeting between the two teams was the second of the year. In a February 17th meeting between the two teams, Penn State dominated, winning in a clean 3-0 sweep.
HARVARD 3, SAINT FRANCIS 1
The weekend slate began with a solid performance against a divisional Red Flash team (8-17, 3-7). Taking the game in four sets, the Crimson picked things up quickly.
Moore again led the offensive front again, tying his season best in kills with 10—a mark he would top the next day. Both Gretsch and sophomore Erik Johnsson reached double-digit kill marks with 15 and 12, respectively. Kostich and Ctvrtlik handled the team in assists with 18 and 19 respectively.
In games, Harvard curtailed its opponent twice initially, with 25-15 and 25-19 games. The team then dropped the next set, 15-25, before putting the game away by the inverse score.
With the two victories, the Crimson can claim the conference by winning out. Ranked second in the conference behind George Mason, Harvard will square off with the Patriots in two weeks. Assuming wins this weekend against Princeton and NJIT, the home matches against the George Mason will decide the EIVA Championship.
“Obviously it’s a situation we’d like to be in at this point in the season, but it also means that we have to fight for these last four games,” Johnsson said. “It also means that we have a chance to win the conference which is something we haven’t been able to do in a long time. After our performance in these last few games, I think we have a really good shot to do it.”
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @THC_CadePalmer.