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Over the past two years, the Harvard women’s volleyball team has dug itself into early-season holes, only to go on to win a share of the Ivy League championship both times.
It’s not necessarily the best strategy to rely on. But, in order grab the throne yet again, the team will have to do the same once more.
The Crimson (3-9, 1-2 Ivy) lost both contests on its Mid-Atlantic road trip, falling to both Princeton (9-3, 3-0) and Penn (7-8, 2-1) to begin the conference season with two losses in its first three games.
“I think we weren’t as consistent as we needed to be and not as mentally tough,” freshman Maclaine Fields said. “This week gave us a really good wake-up call.”
PENN 3, HARVARD 1
With the Crimson and the Quakers having split the first two sets, the third set commenced with teams trading points early. However, after Harvard took a slight 9-6 lead, Penn grabbed 10 of the next 11 points, shooting out to a six-point lead behind two services aces from Sydney Morton and two kills from Caroline Furrer, who led Penn with 14 kills.
From that moment, the Quakers would not let up, taking the third and fourth sets to clinch the match and hand the Crimson its second loss of the weekend.
“We came out in the second set and played very strongly,” Fields said. “I think that was a good sign of how our team can play. I just don’t think our mental game was on that night.”
Penn’s relative error-free offense proved to be an advantage on the night. The Quakers only registered six in the four-set tilt, compared to Harvard’s 21.
Junior Paige Kebe, who is third on the team in kills per set, was out of commission on the weekend due to an injury sustained in practice.
“This week I’ll be focusing on rehab and contributing in any way possible, regardless of whether or not I’m able to play,” Kebe said.
Compared to previous matches, co-captain Corie Bain took a much more pronounced offensive role, recording 21 kills on the night. Her previous high this year was seven in the season opener against Siena. Three other Crimson players—freshmen Grace Roberts Burbank and Fields, along with sophomore Christina Cornelius—recorded double-digit kills.
PRINCETON 3, HARVARD 0
Last November, Harvard defeated Princeton in the Ivy League tiebreaker, placing a permanent blockade on the Tigers’ path to the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
But this year, Princeton returned the favor, sweeping the Crimson to make its path to a three-peat all the more difficult.
The teams came out of the gates even in Dillon Gymnasium, both sitting at 15 points apiece halfway through the first set. But the Tigers would rip off a 10-5 run, capped off by back-to-back kills from Maggie O’Connell.
From there, the Tigers rolled through the next two sets, holding Harvard to 11 and 20 points in the second and third sets, respectively. The Tigers, now undefeated, sit alongside Columbia at the top of the Ivy League.
Last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year Cara Mattaliano led Princeton with 12 kills on 34 attacks after notching 22 in last year’s season finale in a losing effort. Grace Roberts Burbank led the Crimson with 13 kills, while Cornelius was the only other Harvard player to record more than five on the night.
“It [was] hard not having [Kebe],” Fields said. “But we also have a team with a lot of depth. And so was very happy with how people stepped in. We knew going into it that whoever we put onto the court could fill in and do great.”
With the two losses, the Crimson ends the second weekend of the Ancient Eight slate tied for fifth.
Starting with two losses in its first three Ivy League games is not completely foreign territory for Harvard. In 2014, Harvard found itself in the same position before winning 11 straight contests to sit atop of the Ancient Eight standings alongside Yale at season’s end.
Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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