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With Four-Set Win Over Princeton, Women's Volleyball Claims Ivy League NCAA Tournament Bid

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Last year’s Ivy League championship was bittersweet for the Harvard women’s volleyball team. After earning a share of the title, the team lost in straight sets to archrival Yale in the tiebreaking game that decided the Ancient Eight’s NCAA tournament.

But this year’s Crimson championship takes the cake, in all its sweetness.

While Harvard students filed down to New Haven for the 132th rendition of The Game, the women’s volleyball team stayed behind Friday night at the Malkin Athletic Center to take down Princeton, 3-1, to end the Tigers’ season and send the Crimson to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

“It feels amazing, honestly,” senior Kathleen Wallace said. “I think now it’s finally setting in. In the moment I was in shock.”

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The last set of the game was perhaps the Crimson’s most tightly contested of the season. Harvard forced 13 ties in the set, despite only holding the lead during three points, all of which only lasted a point each. With the game tied at 23 points apiece, junior setter Corie Bain delivered the last of her team-high 15 kills on the night, giving the Crimson a one-point lead. One Tiger attack error later, and the Crimson had punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

Princeton was the first team to grab momentum, as the Tigers came storming out of the gates hot. Princeton won its first three points and rode an 8-3 run to get out to an 18-10 lead that the Tigers would not let slip away. Junior outside hitter Cara Mattaliano led the way for Princeton with five kills in the set, part of her game-high 22.

Mattaliano, however, did so on 54 attacks and 10 errors, leaving her attacking percentage at 22 percent.

“We played the middle too loose,” co-captain Caroline Holte said. We didn’t expect to have them come out firing. We knew after that that it was going to be battle and that we were going to have to outwork them.”

The Crimson’s performance in the second set stole that momentum from the Tigers. While the first half of the set saw the teams trade runs, Harvard found a second gear, churning out a 12-4 run to end the set and even the game up a one set apiece headed into the break.

“We did lose last year and that chip was still on our shoulder,” Wallace said. “We had come so close to where we wanted to finish…. It was a motivating factor to actually finish what we started this year. That was the major difference this year.”

The tiebreaker took on a much different tone than last season’s version, which featured the MAC at full capacity and strong showings from fan bases from both Harvard and Yale. This year saw a smaller crowd, an environment in front of which the team was more accustomed to playing.

“Last year we didn’t really know what to expect,” Holte said. “We came in a little more nervous. This year, we focused in the week prior and scouted really well.”

Bain and Wallace would lead the charge for the Crimson over the next two sets. Wallace finished one kill short of Bain on the night, finishing with double-digit kills for the fourth game in a row and for the ninth time in ten games. Meanwhile, the Manhattan Beach, Calif., native notched her seventh triple-double on the year.

Harvard was aided by the Tigers’ increasingly sloppy pay throughout the game. After only recording three errors in the first set, Princeton would go on to average just shy of nine in the remaining three sets, including 11 in the fourth set which the Tigers needed to win to force a fifth set in the tiebreaker game.

The win extends the season for the Crimson, who still awaits its opponent in the first round of the tournament.

Staff writer Kurt T. Bullard can be reached at kurt.bullard@thecrimson.com.

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