New look for women’s volleyball

With a fresh face pacing the sideline, the Gaels are ready to take a leap forward

Ryan Ratushniak (third from right) as an assistant coach for Team Canada.
Credit: 
Supplied by Ryan Ratushniak

With an offseason of uncertainty looming, the women’s volleyball program found themselves at a standstill this summer. 

Michael Ling — the team’s head coach from 2014-17 — resigned in early May, leaving Athletics with just five months to hire a replacement who, once acclimated with the job, would be pressed for time to build a roster and lobby recruits.  

In late July, Queen’s filled their vacancy behind the bench with Ryan Ratushniak. After a five-year playing career at the University of Manitoba, Ratushniak segued into an assistant coaching role for the Canadian women’s and men’s national volleyball team, coaching in 50 different international games around the world.

When Ratushniak arrived to Kingston in mid-August, he was surprised with the quality of team he inherited.  

“I kind of knew what I was getting into,” Ratushniak said, alluding to the research he’d done on the school and the state of the program prior to interviewing for the position. “[B]ut at the same time, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.” 

A healthy mix of lower-and-upper year players is something the first-time head coach “couldn’t be happier with.”

“I’m really impressed with the group of players we have. [It’s] a good group of players, and there’s a mixture of veterans and young players — so there’s a good balance on the team,” he said. 

Under Ling’s tenure, the Gaels experienced three consecutive winning seasons — but come postseason, they floundered, losing in the first round of the OUA playoffs in each of those years. 

During his tenure, Ratushniak said he wants the team to forget about their past. Setting end-of-year goals isn’t a theme he wants the program to adopt because it could “bring a little bit of anxiety [for players].”

“One of the coaching philosophies I have is to be in the moment — just focus on what we’re doing right now,” he said. “It’s a process to where we want to be at the end of the season but I’m optimistic.” 

Ratushniak hopes to keep players comfortable and focused. But he also wants the team not to lose sight of their on-court potential and capabilities. 

“It’s something I’m starting to talk about to the team — what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’re trying build and build and build [toward] the playoffs in February and March,” the coach said. “Competing for an Ontario championship and making it to nationals … this team has the opportunity to do that.”

The Gaels’ fast-paced offense last season fared well in OUA competitions, and it’s a point of emphasis Ratushniak will look to hone in on during his first season. 

“Volleyball’s a fast game, a dynamic game, so I really want a faster offense,” he said of how he’d like to see his team play in the upcoming season. In 2016-17, the Gaels ranked second amongst OUA teams in assists and assists per set and third in kills and kills per set.

Ratushniak further explained how his experience in international coaching exposed him to diverse styles of play and approaches that provincially domestic players are often unfamiliar with. 

Embracing a freer, more unconstrained style of play, for instance, are some changes he hopes the Gaels will welcome this season.  

“I believe in taking risks … In different parts of our game, I’d like us to take a little bit more risks,” Ratushniak said. “[But] it’s about calculated risks — it’s not an all-or-nothing type of approach.” 

The Gaels usher in the new season against crosstown rivals RMC on October 29, a game the program hopes will be the first of many for its promising new head coach. 

“If we do all the right things and stay in the moment, our success is going to take care of itself,” Ratushniak said about this season’s prospects.

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