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Women's Volleyball Rallies, Tops New Hampshire in Five

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For the majority of its nascent 2015 season, the Harvard women’s volleyball team has played without the lead. The story was the same in the Malkin Athletic Center on Tuesday night through the first two sets. But narratives change.

After erasing a two-set deficit yet trailing New Hampshire, 12-14, in the fifth set, the Crimson punched in six straight points to take the match. Senior setter Hannah Schmidt and junior outside hitter Grace Weghorst teamed up to finish off the final two points, solidifying the Crimson’s hard-earned comeback, 16-14.

Coining a new term for itself midgame—a “cohesive fireball”—the Crimson team (2-5) became just that. Steeling itself at an 0-2 disadvantage against the Wildcats (6-6), Harvard turned up the heat to clinch the following three sets and claim its first win in six games.

“We had a saying, the ‘cohesive fireball,’” Weghorst said. “It came up randomly in that third game, and for some reason it stuck with us. It lit a fire under us, and we really went for it.”

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That cohesion was on display in the second set, when a critical diving save allowed senior libero Sindhu Vegesena to set up Weghorst, who fired a kill to tie the score, 21-21. Though the Crimson ultimately lost the set to the Wildcats by three points, the second set proved much closer than the first and gave the team the momentum to power through.

“I think our mentality changed,” co-captain Caroline Holte said. “Our team is very mental, so when we get down on ourselves we really get down on ourselves and we turn internal. When we become one unit, one cohesive unit, that’s when we play our best.”

The Crimson initially struggled to find its footing, trailing UNH for most of the first set. Unable to take the lead, the team ultimately dropped the first set 25-18, stymied by junior Demi Muses, who led the Wildcats in kills with 16.

Close play and a tight back-and-forth marked the second set, however, as the Crimson put increasing pressure on UNH. Starting with a kill from Holte to tie the score at one, the squad remained neck-and-neck with the Wildcats throughout the entire set. UNH maintained a marginal lead and ultimately took the set, 25-22.

Harvard finally pushed through in the third set, advancing from 4-4 to a 10-5 lead with three powerful kills from Weghorst and a kill from freshman Christina Cornelius and junior Corie Bain respectively. UNH fought back to close the gap, 13-12, but Harvard maintained a two-point lead from 14-12 to 18-16, until UNH tied the score at 18-18. Winning the next three points, however, Harvard maintained its lead and closed off the set with a quick kill from Cornelius.

After battling injuries through her sophomore season and playing only two sets in Harvard’s first three matches this year, Weghorst led the Crimson Tuesday with a career-high 24 kills.

“Obviously it’s hard to come in and play a lot, it’s hard for everybody,” the Texas native said. “I’ve had a lot of injuries, and I’m really fighting to get back. The support of the team was really important this time. They were extra supportive, extra cheery, so it worked out.”

The fourth and fifth sets again saw close plays, and tension escalated as Harvard tied the score 20-20 in the fourth set. With a comeback just at its fingertips, the team took a 23-20 lead and finished the set with Bain setting up kills for both Holte and Cornelius. Weghorst’s final two kills in the fifth set sealed the deal for the Crimson.

“I’m just ecstatic,” Holte said. “We had been in a rut for a while with some losses, and it wasn’t that the losses had big gaps in score. We had been very tight in scores, but it’s just something special to get a win, to get a ‘W,’ under your belt.”

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