Many students travel home or to exotic destinations this Reading Week, but some varsity athletes have other things on their mind.
The OUA playoffs start tonight with women’s volleyball taking on the top-seeded University of Toronto Varsity Blues in Toronto.
Then the playoffs reach full swing, with basketball, hockey and volleyball all in action.
Tomorrow afternoon the women’s basketball team will host the Carleton Ravens in a first-round matchup. The Gaels lost to the Ravens last weekend, but beat them 69-64 in a Jan. 25 game at Bartlett Gym.
As usual, the Gaels will count on guards Sarah Barnes and Brittany Moore and forward Anne Murphy for scoring, while trying to shut down Ravens’ 6’1” forward
Head coach Dave Wilson said the team’s feeling confident for the game.
“They have a shorter bench and rely on a couple of key players for scoring, but we certainly go deeper into the bench,” he said, adding that having home court is a huge advantage in his mind.
“It’s nice to be in our own familiar surroundings. … It’s nice not to be travelling.”
With a win over Carleton, the Gaels could advance to the quarter-final. Last year, the Gaels advanced to the OUA semifinal before falling to York.
Tip-off is tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. at Barlett Gym.
The defending OUA champion men’s volleyball team faces the Ryerson Rams in a semifinal match tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
In their last encounter, the Gaels pulled out a five-set win over the Rams on the road. They struggled to deal with Ryerson’s serves—particularly those from Oleh Kovalchuk, who recorded 35 service aces this year, second in the league only to Queen’s setter Devon Miller’s 38.
Willis said Kovalchuk hasn’t been playing much due to injury. Facing the Rams in Bartlett Gym—which has a considerably higher ceiling than Ryerson’s Kerr Hall Gym—will make it easier for the Gaels to contain the Rams’ service game.
Willis said she’s happy to be playing at home due to both the higher roof and the fan support.
The Gaels go into this match on the heels of claiming several OUA awards. Stu Hamilton was named the Libero of the Year, Joren Zeeman took the Rookie of the Year award and Miller and Jeff DeMeza were both named to the first all-star team.
Willis said the team isn’t looking beyond Ryerson to a potential OUA final rematch against McMaster.
“The focus has to be on Ryerson,” she said. “I expect it to be a good battle. We have shown both phenomenal play and mediocre play. It’s a question of which Queen’s team shows up.”
Later on Saturday, the women’s hockey team will look to improve on its OUA silver medal-winning performance last season with a first round game against York at the Memorial Centre at 8:30 p.m.
The Gaels have a 3-0 record against the Lions this year and are on fire going into the playoffs, having won nine of their last 10 games. York has won three straight games. Goalie Melissa John finished the regular season with a 1.91 goals against average and .932 save percentage.
John said the Gaels’ three wins over York don’t really matter at this point.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the kind of hockey they can play,” she said. “They’ve taken out some great teams.”
John added the Gaels are primed for a long playoff run, but aren’t looking past the Lions.
“We know we can beat all the big teams,” she said. “We’re peaking at just the right time. The first half of the year we couldn’t keep leads and we couldn’t win the tight games. We’ve tightened up defensively. … Everyone has lot of confidence.
“But we can’t take York lightly; we’ve got to take care of the first game, first.”
The Gaels will look to Liz Kench, who finished fourth in OUA scoring with 13 goals and 14 assists this season, and Kelsey Thomson, who added 14 goals, for offensive strength.
The men’s hockey team starts their playoffs later than the rest of the Gaels due to the first-round bye they obtained by winning the Mid-East Division. Their first game is Wednesday night.
The Gaels will likely face the McGill Redmen in the three-game quarter-final series. The Redmen beat the Carleton Ravens 5-1 Wednesday night to take a 1-0 series lead. Game two is tonight.
Should the Redmen lose the next two games, Queen’s will prepare for either the Ottawa Gee-Gees or University of Toronto Varsity Blues.
Head coach Brett Gibson said the time off has helped the Gaels recuperate.
“We’ve had a nice little break to get back from injuries. I was really only going with three lines and five defencemen, and the guys showed true character. Now I can actually have a true practice and put the best team on the ice.”
The team’s preparing to play McGill, Gibson said.
Although goalie Ryan Gibb, who is usually superhuman, has had an average second half of the season, Gibson said he remains totally confident in his netminder.
“In the biggest game of the year we know we can count on him.”
Gibb said the team’s Jan. 18 10-1 loss to the Redmen has been forgotten.
“We didn’t even bring our B game, we brought our D game … our F game. It didn’t mean much to us. If anything they may come in feeling a little bit confident and we’ll definitely surprise them,” he said.
“Everything’s feeling good right now, team’s looking really good on the ice, passes are hitting the tape and pucks are hitting me.”
Visit queensjournal.ca for Golden Gaels playoff updates starting Friday night.
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