Dave Matthews slams a rocket of a serve. Across the net, a defender pops it to a teammate for a quick set-up, and a tall researcher in sunglasses at the net arches up and spikes. The ball sizzles past the outstretched arms of Kumaresh Krishnan. Rachel Savage and Matthews, both grad students, dive for it. Savage digs it up, puts it over, and the guy in sunglasses goes up to put it away, but smashes it into the net. Point Aquatic Army.
Most Rhino League games are not this tough. They typically feature a distinctive blend of community, competition, and lightly lubricated conviviality, but this one on Aug. 20 between Aquatic Army and Fourth-Floor Giants was for the championship. Its conclusion would mark another season of summer volleyball for teams of mostly Harvard scientists, competing weekly on a sand-filled court under the gaze of a pair of bronze rhino statues, from which the group takes its name, standing guard before the Harvard Bio Labs.
“It started off as every lab playing just forming a team within their labs and then coming and participating, but it’s kind of transcended that and become like an actual competition,” said Krishnan, league co-commissioner and a graduate student from the Engert Lab in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “It’s really come a long way.”
At the end of the season, top teams enter playoffs to compete for the Rhino Cup, a homemade trophy that shows the animal standing on a lab cylinder while balancing a volleyball on its horn. Some years, the worst teams from the league play for the Dung Cup, a plaque topped with what looks like a pile of rhino — you get the picture.
The league has two divisions, one more competitive and the other recreational. Whatever division league members play in, the spirit of the league holds strong.
“The whole idea has been that it’s a community-building exercise,” Krishnan said. “Over the summer, it’s a nice way for all of us to hang out, socialize, and also have some fun in the process.”