Volleyball beats Ivy rivals Harvard in five-set thriller

by Daniel Lee | 9/28/15 7:39pm

The volleyball team (4-6, 1-0 Ivy) started the season with a decisive victory over Harvard University (4-7, 0-1 Ivy) to kick off the Ivy League conference schedule, defeating the Crimson three sets to two. After coming off of a stretch of tough preseason losses, the women made some much needed adjustments to bounce back against Harvard.

The Big Green had a difficult first set despite jumping out to an early 7-6 lead. A kill by Harvard junior Grace Weghorst would spark an 11-4 Harvard run that would give the Crimson a comfortable 18-10 lead. After two consecutive kills by Emily Astarita ’17 and a Dartmouth ace, Harvard’s first set lead was cut to 24-19, but the Big Green was unable to complete the comeback.

With pressure mounting in the second set of the game, Dartmouth was able to take a 14-9 lead after three kills by Kaira Lujan ’16, four kills by Astarita and service aces from both Jordan Cornwell ’19 and Sierra Lyle ’19. Harvard would go on a furious rally to trail Dartmouth by a single point by a score of 18-17, but Astarita and Sierra registered two kills apiece during a 7-2 run that gave the Big Green a much needed set to even the match at one set apiece.

The third set of the game featured drastic lead changes as both teams took turns rallying and leading by respectable margins. Astarita would register four kills that pushed the Big Green ahead for an early 11-5 lead, but nine attack errors by Dartmouth in the set allowed the Crimson to climb back into contention. Down 17-20, Coach Erin Lindsey substituted Zoe Leonard ’19 and Paige Caridi ’16 into the game and the Big Green regained control, going on an 8-2 run led by a service ace by Lujan and a kill apiece by Caridi and Astarita.

“Tough serving and defense really helped us out [in the third set]. We improved on our defense and even our serving,” Stacey Benton ’17 said. “Those two factors are what really helped us make Harvard frustrated because they couldn’t figure out what to do.”

Leading two sets to one, Dartmouth started the fourth set with three quick points in hopes of sealing the early win, but neither team was able to secure a comfortable lead. Harvard would go on a 5-1 run that the Big Green was unable to recover from. As Dartmouth trailed 24-23, Harvard senior Kathleen Wallace registered a kill for the 25th point to even the match at two sets apiece.

The women would have to undergo yet another five-set game, something that the team had experienced against Western Michigan University exactly a week before, when they trailed throughout the final set for a 15-9 loss.

“We knew going into this fifth set that we had to start really fast,” Caridi said. “With the fifth set only being 15 points, there’s no time to give any leeway on anything, so we just decided to be really aggressive coming out of the gate.”

The two teams battled to an even split of the first 12 points of the final set. Dartmouth demonstrated that aggressiveness as they went on a 4-1 run that was fueled by three impressive kills by Caridi. Harvard cut that lead to one and a 13-12 deficit. A costly attack error by Harvard sophomore Caroline Labanowski and a kill by Harvard freshman Christina Cornelius brought the game to the brink for Harvard. Harvard faced match point, trailing 14-13 A Hannah Schmidt served in an attempt to even the score. When Schmidt’s serve went astray, the Big Green celebrated a narrow 15-13 fifth set win to jump ahead of the Crimson in the early Ivy standings.

Caridi registered a double-double with 13 kills and 13 digs, Astarita added a game high 23 kills and Benton dished out a game high 58 assists, 19 more than her preseason high against Bryant University.

The team’s trying out-of-conference schedule prepared the players well for the Ivy League slate, Astarita said.

“We had a pretty tough preseason schedule, but we got a lot better during [that time] and we improved on a lot of our skills and team chemistry,” Astarita said. “Going into Harvard, we knew that we had improved and we were prepared and had done all the work that we needed to do to go play against a good team.”

Historically, the Big Green has had very successful starts to the season against Harvard. The Big Green has faced the Crimson in its Ivy League opener for 11 consecutive years and is 8-3 during that span and 6-1 in the past seven years alone. This is the Big Green’s first win at Harvard since the 2011-2012 season — the first victory on Cambridge soil for all the current players and the second for head coach Erin Lindsey.

Despite an impressive win to start off the season, the team is not taking time off before its next games.

“Each week is a completely clean slate,” Caridi said. You have a new opponent. We broke it down to fundamentals a little bit more and even though we did win that game, if we watch film, there are some mistakes that we made. The more we can clean that up, the more we can continue to expect to get wins out of games.”

The Big Green will play its first home game of the Ivy League schedule against the University of Pennsylvania this Friday at 7 p.m. and Princeton University at 5 p.m.