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Harvard Women’s Volleyball Finishes 2021 Campaign With Significant Improvement

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Last weekend the women’s volleyball team finished out its season, losing to Brown (20-4, 13-1 Ivy League) and Yale (16-7, 9-5) with scores of 3-0 and 3-2, respectively. The Crimson’s 10-13, 7-7 record is a marked improvement from its previous season’s record of 5-18, 2-10 in 2019.

“We really showed our improvement from the beginning to the end [of the season],” said sophomore outside hitter Katie Vorhies.

Vorhies’ contribution to the team’s success was undeniable, as she tallied 266 kills over the 23-game season, hitting double-digit kill counts in all but six games. Along with Vorhies was junior co-captain attacker Jaimie Rao, who led the team in kills with 278. The duo contributed almost half of the team’s 1170 kills. Vorhies’ and Rao’s offensive efforts were supplemented by sophomore hitters Nicole Prescott and Olivia Cooper.

Harvard started its season with a string of weekend tournaments, going 3-6 before beginning Ivy League play. Wins against Merrimack (0-29, 0-14 Northeast Conference), Howard (18-12, 12-2 MEAC), and American (19-14, 11-5 Patriot League) and a tight 3-2 loss to No. 13 Oregon (20-8, 11-7 PAC-12) were bright spots in this first third. Vorhies particularly noted the energy and competitiveness the Crimson brought to the match against the Ducks.

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Inexperience and trial-and-error dominated as the Crimson struggled to find its footing in the start of the season.

“We had an interesting dynamic this year, as half of the team was completely new,” Vorhies said. “In the beginning of the season we had a lot of talent, and we were still trying to put it together.”

Although many players had never played in a college match, this naivety did not deter them from making contributions. For example, first-year libero Lindsey Zhang dominated Harvard’s defensive game throughout the season.

“[Zhang] did a great job,” Vorhies said. “She was a really solid player in every single game, and that was really important. I think it can be hard to step into a leadership role like that as a freshman, and she did it right from the beginning. We’re all really proud of her for that.”

Zhang led the team in digs with 329, and Prescott and first-year setter Rocky Aguirre followed with 149 and 136, respectively. Cooper and sophomore blocker Ariana White contributed 80 and 74 blocks as well.

Zhang, Prescott, Aguirre, Cooper, and White had never played for the Crimson before this year.

As the new players began to integrate into the team with the support of upperclassmen, Harvard saw success as it entered Ivy League play for the bulk of its season.

“By the middle and end of the season we saw each other develop into a fierce, competitive group and were working really well with each other,” Vorhies said. “We were intense and competitive, and it was really cool to see us have that growth.”

After its 3-6 start, the team went 7-7 against the Ancient Eight. The Crimson displayed strong showings in both home and away matches throughout the middle of the season, evening its record at 9-9 before dropping three of its last four matches.

The attrition of the long season and injuries could explain why Harvard could not continue its success and close out the season on a high.

“It was a tough season because we did have a lot of injuries,” Vorhies said. “We had people playing through injuries, we had people out with injuries. Almost every single person had an injury at some point.”

For instance, sophomore setter and hitter Ashley Wang went down in early October with an ankle injury. She missed a month of competition but still managed to end her truncated season with 145 kills and 123 digs.

Although the Crimson looks forward to next year’s season with all of its players returning, a year’s worth of experience under its belt, and new skills and chemistry, Vorhies noted that the team benefited from the leadership of senior attacker Julia Beckmann. Beckmann was not able to compete in the season due to medical reasons.

“[Beckmann] was always cheering us on from the bench and supported us from the background,” Vorhies said. “It’s really important. It can be hard sometimes if you’re not able to be on the court to be engaged and contribute to conversations, and she did a great job of that all year.”

Nevertheless, the team is excited to improve on the success it enjoyed this year.

“I am looking forward to playing those tough games that we lost in the fifth set, like to Princeton, Yale and Brown,” Vorhies said. “Those were teams we were really close with. I’m really excited because our team is not only talented, but we also have that competitive drive and chemistry which is something unique. I think next year we could do really well.”

— Staff writer Noah Jun can be reached at noah.jun@thecrimson.com.

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