Bright beginnings for men’s volleyball

Despite lack of veteran players, Gaels get strong start to the season with home wins over Guelph and Laurier

The men’s volleyball team aced their season-opening weekend with a pair of wins.

The Gaels are 2-0 after a 3-1 win on Saturday over the Guelph Gryphons and a straight-sets victory on Sunday over the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks.

The team entered the game against the Gryphons having lost to them in straight sets the previous weekend in Guelph during pre-season competition.

Outside-hitter Niko Rukavina said home-court advantage made the difference this time around.

“We’re confident in Bartlett. We’re not going to lose in our gym this year,” he said.

The Gaels entered the season short several veterans from last year’s roster, leaving middle/outside-hitter Sam Pedlow the only player beyond his third year of eligibility. Rukavina said the team’s already starting to fill the leadership roles left vacant by the graduated athletes.

“There was a gap at the beginning of the pre-season,” he said. “A lot of the third-years have stepped up. There’s still an absence, but we’re growing into it.”

Third-year middle-hitter Joren Zeeman led the team with 33 points over the weekend, 20 coming in the win over Guelph.

The Gaels rebounded after losing the first set 25-20 to the Gryphons, with three consecutive set-victories 25-19, 25-19, and 25-18.

Head coach Brenda Willis said beating Guelph was a matter of learning from their pre-season loss.

“We came back and worked all week on a block pattern to counter their offence,” she said. “When they got here I think there was a different level of confidence and respect for the opponent.”

Willis said she expected a slow start to the season.

“We came out at the beginning a little bit tentative,” she said. “We’re just getting a feel for each other. In the timeout we talked about staying aggressive, just put them in trouble with your serve and don’t worry about erroring. It paid off.”

Sunday’s game against Laurier saw similar improvement, with the Gaels stretching the deficit from 25-21 in the first set to 25-18 and 25-14 in the second and third sets respectively.

The Gaels will look to improve their record to 3-0 tonight in Bartlett against the Royal Military College Paladins. Willis said she isn’t expecting a challenge.

“They have a lot less to draw from; it’s a much smaller university and they have a physically small team compared to us,” she said. “I don’t think taking them lightly is too big a problem because of who I’m going to play. I’m anticipating playing several younger players. The players on the floor will be keen to compete.”

Following the RMC game, the Gaels’ will travel to Toronto on Sunday to play the 1-1 York University Lions.

Zeeman preached caution, though, adding that winning can’t inspire overconfidence with such parity in the league.

“No matter who the competition is we have to play like we can play.”

The men’s volleyball team hosts the Royal Military College Paladins tonight at 8 p.m. at Bartlett Gym

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