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Upset Game of the Year, Runner-Up: Men's Volleyball vs. Penn State

By Peter G. Cornick

In EIVA volleyball, the conference championship has become somewhat of a forgone conclusion. Penn State has taken 15 straight EIVA titles and is one of the few teams west of the Rocky Mountains to consistently challenge for a national championship. While the rest of the EIVA certainly is not a David, the Nittany Lions are a Goliath.

So when Penn State arrived in Cambridge with a 51-game conference-win streak stretching back to its 2008 national championship season, few observers expected the Crimson, an emerging force in the EIVA, to challenge the Nittany Lions’ hegemony. But behind strong service and passing, Harvard was able to strike early and often for one of the biggest upsets in EIVA history, 3-0.

Sophomore outside hitter DJ White returned from injury to register a game-high 13 kills as the home team put Penn State on its heels early.

Junior co-captain Nick Madden attributes much of the victory to both White’s and the home crowd’s presence. Throughout the season, the MAC proved challenging for visitors, with the Crimson falling only once in Cambridge.

“They’re used to their 2000 fans at their school, but when they would get a kill, it was silent,” Madden said. “When we would do something, even if it wasn’t a great play, we would have all of our buddies and parents there cheering. Fan support was huge in that game.”

When the configuration of the EIVA changed in 2011, setting up two regular season meetings between the Crimson and the Nittany Lions, co-captain Rob Lothman was not positive he would ever see Harvard challenge the squad.

“I think we laughed a bit realizing that Penn State was going to have to come to the MAC and climb all of our stairs to the smaller gym with a smaller crowd,” the senior said.

But as the 2012 season saw the Crimson jump from a 9-13 team to an 18-6 team, including a tough five-set loss to Penn State in which Harvard led 2-0, belief began to infect the team. And after another five-set loss on Jan. 26, the Crimson knew it was on the brink.

For Lothman, the game will always be one of the defining moments of his Harvard career.

“I’m going to remember that game forever,” the co-captain said.

–Staff writer Peter G. Cornick can be reached at pcornick@college.harvard.edu

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