Volleyball drops Ivy League opener versus Harvard

Falling behind two sets to none early, the Big Green fought hard in a furious comeback but could not prevail in the tiebreak.

by Ethan Strauss | 9/27/21 2:05am

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Source: Courtesy of Doug Austin

The Dartmouth women’s volleyball team (8-2, 0-1 Ivy League) dropped their first home conference game last Friday against Harvard University (4-6, 1-0 Ivy League) in five sets: 25-22, 25-19, 24-26, 23-25 and 15-11. After falling behind with losses in both of the first two sets, the Big Green rallied but eventually fell to a stout Crimson squad.  

Coming into the game, the Big Green sat at 8-1, indicative of impressive non-conference  performances, especially considering the nearly two-year hiatus in competition. The first challenges for the team this season were to integrate two classes of new athletes and forge a closer bond after being away for so long, according to captain Emma Moffet ’22.

“I think what was really important in the beginning was just making sure we had a really good team culture off the court, making people feel super welcome and just fostering really good team cohesion,” said Moffet. “Also just establishing our team culture, which is just work hard, as hard as you can [and] give 100 percent every day.”

Dartmouth knew going into the game that this Harvard team would pose a challenge. A week earlier, the Crimson lost a tight match against the Pac-12’s University of Oregon, the 13th-ranked team in the country. Ellie Blain ’24 said the Big Green understood that playing together as a team and staying in the game emotionally would be the keys to their success.

“I think just fighting, just staying energetic and united as a team [are important],” said Blain. “We have really good team camaraderie, so I think building on that and staying consistent and calm and just doing what we have been working on the past couple of weeks [will be important] as well.”

The first set was tightly contested until the Crimson strung together three points to get ahead 16-12. The Big Green then attempted to cut down the lead, capitalizing on a few Harvard attack errors to bring the game within a point after an emphatic kill by Francesca Meldrum ’22. However, their efforts were thwarted as the Crimson closed out the set 25-22.

Harvard gained momentum quickly in the second set, dominating offensively as well as at the net. The Big Green returned fire with a number of kills, but the Crimson prevailed again after a 6-0 run. After fighting through a contested match but falling in each of the first two sets, the Big Green needed to take momentum quickly. Head coach Gilad Doron reminded the players during the break to stick to their team values and have hope.

“I just told them to believe and stay to the core values of what we work on, to trust one another,” Doron said. “[I told them to] improve the system that we play, just one player at a time, not looking at the score. Just trying to play one play at a time.”

The third set featured just as much back-and-forth action, though the Crimson once again jumped out to a lead, getting ahead 11-7. Offensively, Dartmouth battled back with kills by Bomi Ogunlari ’24 and Karen Murphy ’24, but Harvard continued to maintain their lead until the score sat at 21-16. Finally, with the support of an energetic crowd, the Big Green took back the momentum and closed out the set with a 10-3 run to claim victory. 

In the fourth set, the teams traded leads early once again, though this time Dartmouth pulled ahead 15-12 on the back of two consecutive aces by Emma Engstrom ’25. The Big Green kept this lead until late in the set and were able to successfully defend against a furious Harvard comeback attempt, holding on 25-23. Momentum had clearly shifted in the building, with the team playing looser and with improved efficiency.

“We cut some of our unforced errors, especially hitting-wise, and we served better,” Doron said. “We slowed them down on their side-out percentage, and we started siding-out better, and that was a big difference because we got second or third chances.”

Moffet added that the crowd was a significant factor in the Big Green’s capture of momentum in the third and fourth sets. 

“Just feeling the energy of the crowd and knowing that that many people are there just for you and that they believe in you, so we should believe in ourselves,” said Moffet. 

Entering the fifth set, Dartmouth hoped to hold this momentum and win the match. However, the Crimson, helped by a 5-0 run, won the race to 15. The Big Green fought back but in the end was unable to capitalize in the crucial tiebreak. 

Standout performers included Blain, who led the team on offense in her first conference game with 14 kills and 16 total points, Makenzie Arent ’23, who worked as a facilitator with 22 assists and 14 digs, and Engrstom, who totaled 19 digs. Francesca Meldrum ’22 led the team with four blocks. Overall, the Crimson were more efficient, more than doubling Dartmouth’s .155 hitting percentage. However, the Big Green served well and posted 12 aces on the day.

Doron believes that this game will serve as a learning experience for the rest of the season. He underscored that conference play is different from non-conference competition, and that coming back from a year without play means that any opponent can be unpredictable. 

“Hopefully we learn that we need to be aggressive from the beginning, how to prepare for conference matchups where someone knows your tendencies and how to hurt the other team’s, and just stay smart, stay aggressive, stay together and play better,” said Doron.

The Big Green will continue its Ivy League play away from Hanover this upcoming weekend. On Friday, they play at Princeton University (7-2, 1-0 Ivy League) before going to the University of Pennsylvania (3-7, 0-1 Ivy League) on Saturday. The team will look to improve on their performance to earn their first conference win of the season. 

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