Coming off a grueling five-set loss on the road to Princeton last weekend, the Harvard women’s volleyball team (6-8, 3-2 Ivy League) responded with a huge 3-2 win at Yale (10-4, 3-2 Ivy League) on Friday, before falling to Brown (12-3, 5-0 Ivy League) 3-1 on Saturday.
The victory was the Crimson’s first on the road at Yale since 2017 and continued a strong stretch of play after opening the season with six losses in its first seven matches. Both teams entered play with identical 2-1 records in Ivy League competition, and the win temporarily vaulted Harvard into third place in the league standings.
“The first games of our season were rough because we were still figuring out what system worked best for us and working on our setter/hitter connection,” first-year setter Rocky Aguirre said.
Aguirre also identified several key injuries that hampered the Crimson’s on-court success at the start of the season. Nevertheless, these setbacks allowed first-year libero Lindsey Zhang, who was pressed into action in her first year on the team, to perform well in the role.
Harvard came out of the gate strong against Yale, winning the first set 25-14 and the second set 25-23. However, the Bulldogs responded with victories in the third and fourth sets, setting up a decisive fifth set, which the Crimson won 15-11. In four of five sets, Harvard held Yale to under a .155 hitting percentage, including a .091 hitting percentage in a dominant first set win. The Crimson also tallied 11 service aces, with sophomore setter Bella Almanza and first-year outside hitter Nicole Prescott each recording three.
“There's always a lot of nerves and tension when we go into a game like that,” said sophomore outside hitter/right side attacker Katie Vorhies, referencing the historic rivalry between the two colleges.
Despite the nerves and tension, especially as Yale clawed its way back into the match, Harvard jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the fifth set and never looked back, which Vorhies attributed to Almanza’s strong service game.
“By the fifth set, we were talking in the huddle and we said, ‘Look, the score right now is 0-0, and we're going to come up here and we're going to start off strong and take the lead,’” Vorhies said.
“I think the realization for them that they were about to be swept really made them turn it up a notch,” Aguirre said. “I think the same thing happened to us after we lost the fourth set – we realized that we could lose after being up 2-0, and we just would not let it happen.”
Harvard got off to a similarly fast start against Brown, winning the first set 25-20, but the Crimson went on to drop the final three sets by scores of 25-21, 25-14, and 25-19. The loss to Brown, which entered the match tied with Princeton atop the league standings with a perfect 4-0 record, dropped Harvard to fourth place. Despite the loss, the Crimson hung tough with a very strong opponent, as Harvard out-blocked Brown 8-6, and the score was tied 19 times.
“Brown was the better team that night, and they deserved the win, but I promise next time will be a much better fight,” Aguirre said. “Everyone is using the loss to fuel us for next weekend. I’m really looking forward to those matches because I know how determined we are to win [the Ivy League].”
Vorhies led the Crimson offense over the weekend with a team-high 15 kills against Yale and 13 against Brown. Prescott recorded nine kills at Yale and eight at Brown, while Almanza recorded a team-leading 46 assists over the two matches, followed by Aguirre, who had 31 assists.
On the defensive end, Harvard was led by sophomore middle hitter Olivia Cooper and junior right side attacker and co-captain Jaimie Rao, who each recorded six blocks over the two matches, while Prescott led the way with a combined 22 digs.
The Crimson’s first home matches of the season will take place this weekend against Cornell (5-8, 1-4 Ivy League) and Columbia (4-10, 1-4 Ivy League), which will be critical to maintaining pace in the Ancient Eight.
“There’s just a whole other level of energy when you have your fans and your home court, and I think that’s going to be another growing opportunity for us too,” Vorhies said.