In an eerie repetition of their 2017-18 season, the women’s volleyball team’s (13-6) playoff run came to a quick close last weekend after a 3-1 loss to the Western Mustangs (14-5).
The Gaels have now dropped three consecutive quarterfinal bouts to Western, and they’ve failed to make it past the first round of the postseason since 2011-12.
In an interview with The Journal on Monday, Head Coach Ryan Ratushniak said although his team performed well in the match, things just didn’t play out in their favour.
“We came out very strong in the match, taking a good lead in the first set. And that was probably the strongest we’ve come out all year,” he said. “It was just that things didn’t go our way.”
After Queen’s won the first set 25-19, Western came back to win the second and third. While the Gaels were up 24-21 in the fourth, the game slipped through their fingers when the Mustangs ripping off a five-point run to win the closing set 26-24 and the match 3-1.
“You really need to play a complete game, a complete set, and be consistent,” Ratushniak said about how his team could’ve performed better. “It felt like similar to our regular season game against them [when] we outplayed them for a lot of the match.” In October, the Gaels lost to Western by just a narrow 3-2 margin. They haven’t beat the Mustangs since 2015-16.
Overall, Queen’s outscored the Mustangs on Saturday 67-61, putting up 58 kills to Western’s 44.
“But that’s not how [volleyball] works,” Ratushniak said, “and that beat us in the end. That’s the nature of the sport.” Despite Saturday’s loss, the second-year head coach added he’s proud of how his team performed—both on Saturday and throughout the season.
While Ratushniak feels his program is going in the right direction, the Gaels undoubtedly faced some adversity this year.
Fourth-year Isabelle Korchinski tore her ACL in January and missed the remainder of the season. Also injured were third-year Natalie Crews, who had surgery on a torn ACL just last week, and second-year Erin Finan, who’s been out with a concussion for much of the second-half of the year.
“Not making excuses or saying that we could’ve gone further without those injuries, but that definitely had an impact on our ability to do certain things on the court, and also train in certain ways,” Ratushniak said.
Fifth-year Caroline Livingston, in her final game as a Gael before graduation, led the match with 16 kills against Western, with second-year Julia Wiercigroch close behind at 15. Also notably, fourth-year Sierra Hardy had 42 assists in her final game sporting the tricolor.
With the 2018-19 campaign wrapped up, the Gaels are now looking ahead to recruiting and rebuilding for next season. Though Ratushniak has six recruits committed—indicating next year’s roster will be a younger one—he’s reluctant to think about next year just yet.
“We’re still kind of evaluating this season and debriefing the season, reflecting,” he said. “But once it’s time, we’ll start preparing. I feel very good about where we’re at as a program and where we’re going, so we’re definitely looking forward to the future.”
When reflecting on the season, the big highlight for Ratushniak was his team’s pair of five-set wins over the University of Toronto Blues (14-5).
“When we look back, I think we can be very proud of those results. In both of those matches we played very well,” he said. “They’re a team that’s been ranked in the top-10 in the country all year.”
Along with this, the Gaels’ only loss to a team in their OUA East division was the Ryerson Rams, who were last year’s OUA and U Sports gold medal champions. “We took care of business in our division, including beating Toronto—that’s definitely a highlight.”
But what impressed Ratushniak the most was how his team closed their regular season. After heading into the winter break with a 5-4 record, the Gaels won eight while losing just two of their final 10 games—including a six-game win streak before the postseason.
“We became galvanized—we started to play together,” Ratushniak said. “We talked about supporting each other at all times and we really achieved that. That would be what I’m most proud of.”
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