The Harvard Crimson made their first appearance in the NCAA Volleyball tournament this year, earning the bid by winning the Ivy League Championship. Their first round match was against the #4-seeded Nebraska Husker Volleyball team at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The Huskers beat the Crimson 3-1 (22-25, 25-15, 25-17, 25-19)
Harvard opened up an early 5-2 lead on the the Huskers, taking advantage of serve-receive errors by the Huskers and getting balls to the floor using off-speed attacks and Husker blocking errors.
A Kadie Rolfzen service error and an Amber Rolfzen attack that was blocked easily by the Crimson extended the lead to 7-3 Harvard before a serve out of bounds gave the Huskers the ball and put the serve in Mikaela Foecke's hands.
Foecke's serve proved hard for Harvard to deal with, and the Husker block helped throw Harvard off their early game to allow the Huskers to tie the set at seven.
After Harvard opened their lead to 9-7, the Huskers again tied it with Amber Rolfzen serving. Sydney Townsend has been serving for Amber all year, but was in street clothes tonight after apparently taking a knee to the face in practice.
The Crimson then put together a 4-0 run to take a 13-9 lead and force Coach Cook to use his first timeout of the set.
Cecilia Hall got the kill out of the timeout to stop the Harvard run and put Kelly Hunter on the serving line. However, Harvard earned the immediate sideout, hitting through a triple Husker block.
The subsequent Crimson serve went long and put Annika Albrecht back to serve, but the Huskers still couldn't find an answer to gain ground on Harvard. The Huskers trailed 17-12.
Things began to turn around with Kadie Rolfzen serving. The Huskers put up three quick points to close to 17-15 and force the first Harvard timeout of the first set.
Harvard came back out of the timeout and won the next two points and briefly maintained the four-point advantage.
With Kelsey Fien being ineffective and Harvard holding on to a 21-17 advantage, Coach Cook inserted Alicia Ostrander for Fien. Ostrander's first touch was a solo block to close the score to 21-19 Crimson.
A four-contact error on Harvard gave the serve back to the Huskers with the score 23-21 and led to the second Crimson timeout of the first set.
Foecke was blocked out of the timeout to give Harvard their first set point of set number one. Though the Huskers fought off one set point, they couldn't fight off a second and dropped the first set 25-22.
The Huskers were outhit by Harvard .262-.186 in the first set. Cecilia Hall led all hitter in percentage with a .750, recording three kills on four attempts. Amber Rolfzen led all hitters in kills with five on eleven attempts with one error. The outsides were largely ineffective with Fien hitting .000 and Foecke hitting .125.
Much to the relief of the Devaney crowd, Fien led off the second set with a kill to take the Huskers' first lead of the match. The Huskers fought through two successive long rallies after that to take a 3-0 lead.
The Huskers showed a fire that was notably absent in the first set, opening an early 5-0 lead before Harvard used their first timeout early in the set.
Annika Albrecht's serve gave the Crimson big problems in the early part of the second set, allowing the Huskers to open up a 10-0 lead before an attack was called long and gave Harvard their first point of the set.
Harvard closed to within 14-7 at one point, but the Husker offense, which was nearly dormant in the first set, was alive and VERY effective in the second. The Huskers opened the lead back up to ten at 18-8 and led to the Crimson's second timeout of the set.
Harvard never got to within seven again, as the Husker attack finally seemed to figure out the Harvard block, and the Nebraska block stopped Harvard's offense cold. The Huskers took the set in spectacular fashion, 25-15.
The Huskers hit .394 in the second set to .121 for the Crimson. Kelsey Fien was much better, recording three kills on four attempts in the set. The Husker block was much better as well, with the Huskers getting four blocks to none for Harvard.
The teams traded serves early in the third set with Harvard having the slight advantage. The Huskers took their first lead with Kadie Rolfzen serving, opening it up to 6-3 before her serve found the net for an error.
Harvard fought back to tie it at six, and the teams stayed knotted for awhile with Nebraska holding the serve advantage until a missed connection between Kelly Hunter and Cecilia Hall led to a 10-9 lead for Harvard.
Nebraska took the advantage back with Annika Albrecht serving. The teams exchanged sideouts and Nebraska went on a 4-0 run on Wong-Orantes' serve to take a 15-11 lead in to the media timeout.
The teams traded points out of the timeout until the Harvard serve-receive struggled with Foecke's serve, leading to a hit into the net, and the Crimson took a timeout down 18-13.
Harvard closed to within three, but the Huskers opened the lead to five again and force a Harvard timeout with the Huskers up 22-17. Harvard couldn't make good on any adjustments, however, and fell 25-17.
The Huskers hit .394 for the second straight set to .154 Harvard. Kadie Rolfzen was leading all Nebraska hitters through three sets with 13 kills and was hitting .357. Combined, the three middles (Amber Rolfzen, Cecilia Hall, and Meghan Haggerty) were hitting above .500 through three sets. Justine Wong-Orantes had 20 digs through three sets.
Nebraska took the lead early and continued to extend the advantage, opening it up to 11-5 to force the first Harvard timeout. The Huskers kept the lead at five to six for awhile, but the Huskers seemed to be on cruise control, so Coach Cook took a timeout with the score 15-10 Nebraska.
Harvard earned the point after the timeout, but then served in to the net to give the serve back to the Huskers. From there, the Huskers began to put the match away, increasing their lead and sealing the match with a 25-19 fourth set win.
The Huskers looked sloppy early and never really asserted dominance over a Harvard team that played like they had nothing to lose. Setting and blocking miscues by the Huskers early on, and a great Crimson block, led to the Huskers dropping the first set, but the team showed great resolve and fortitude to dominate the second set.
Kadie Rolfzen had a double-double on the night with 12 digs and 15 kills to hit .278 on the night. Mikaela Foecke had 12 kills on 28 attempts with five errors to hit .250. Cecilia Hall had 10 kills on 17 swings to hit .471 and Amber Rolfzen, her opposite, had 10 kills on 22 attempts to hit .364. The Huskers hit .298 to .163 for Harvard.
Justine Wong-Orantes added 23 digs for the Huskers on the night where the Huskers had 63 total. Harvard had 55 digs.
After the first set, when Harvard outblocked Nebraska 4-1, the Huskers outblocked the Crimson 14-2 for a total of 15 Husker blocks to 6 for Harvard. Amber Rolfzen led all Husker blockers with eight assisted and one solo block for the night.
Harvard was a feisty, scrappy team playing in their first ever NCAA Tournament match. They came out early and took advantage of miscues from a Husker team who seemed to be overlooking their opponent. Harvard also kept a lot of balls alive which seemed to frustrate the Huskers, leading to Harvard points. The Huskers played their brand of volleyball through the last three sets, however, and it was too much for Harvard.
It seemed that the Huskers struggling in the first set were the veterans, not the freshman who play major roles. The recovery in the second set was indicative of girls how have struggled and know how to recover from that in the tournament. The fact that Foecke and Maloney continued to play at the level we've come to expect give great hope for the remainder of the tournament.
Really, while some of this was tough to watch, there's not a lot from this match to be nervous about. Harvard is better than their record would indicate and played very well tonight. The Huskers will learn from this and should play great ball against a very good Wichita State team on Saturday night.
The game will be live on NET in Nebraska. This match was also live streamed on BTN2Go, though it's not clear at this time whether or not the Wichita State match will be as well.