The men’s volleyball team ensured history would repeat itself this year, as their four-set win over the sixth-seeded Ryerson Rams in Saturday’s OUA semifinal match set up an Ontario final clash with the McMaster Marauders for the second straight season.
McMaster, unbeaten and ranked second in Canada, knocked off the Western Mustangs in four sets in an earlier match Saturday.
Ryerson got off to a strong start, taking an early 6-3 lead. The Gaels quickly recovered, however, and claimed the first set 25-21. The Rams came back in the second, jumping to a 9-3 lead.
The Gaels fought back, but couldn’t catch up to Ryerson and lost the set 25-22.
The Gaels claimed the third set 25-18, then trailed at the start of the fourth set but recovered to win it 25-18.
Ryerson head coach Mirek Porosa said his team was somewhat outmatched, but didn’t play to their potential.
“We didn’t play well, but Queen’s set up well,” he said. “You have to give credit to Queen’s and congratulations to Queen’s for executing their game plan.”
Willis said the Gaels had a tough time adjusting to the side they played on in the second and fourth sets.
“I was really disappointed when we moved to the visitor’s side in both the second and fourth sets,” she said. “I thought [the team] looked uncomfortable, and it occurred to me that maybe we haven’t spent enough time receiving on both sides of our own gym. … I think this week I’m going to make sure we balance that out a little better.”
About 50 Ryerson fans came to town on a fan bus armed with cowbells, noisemakers and their own loud voices. Willis said they might have played a part in the Gaels’ early struggles.
“The Ryerson fans were also on that side, and I thought maybe they had some minor effect at the beginning,” she said. “I talked about that during one of the timeouts.”
With the Gaels trailing 20-12 midway through the second set, Willis took out rookie outside hitter Joren Zeeman and replaced him with fifth-year veteran Dan McCrae. McCrae helped the Gaels claw their way back to within one point of the Rams and played a large role in the final two sets.
Willis said she put McCrae in for his experience: he played a key role in the Gaels’ 2006 and 2007 OUA championships.
“There was a bit of nerves [at the start of the second set],” she said. “It also occurred to me that I had Joren, Niko [Rukavina] and [Michael Amoroso] on the floor, three rookies. They don’t have that playoff experience. I brought Dan McCrae in and he has that, and he was a big part of both championships. I thought he really brought some leadership, brought some blocking—settled the guys down.”
McCrae said keeping their composure during the stretches when Ryerson played well was key to the Gaels’ victory.
“They put on pressure a couple times and they went on some runs,” he said. “It was our ability to respond to that pressure that really helped us pull out the win.”
The Gaels held Ryerson’s OUA first team all-star Nicolas Beaver—who averaged more than two kills per set during the regular season—to only four kills. Middle hitter Chris Vandyk said strategic serving to deny Beaver kill opportunities was a crucial part of the game for the Gaels.
“Nic Beaver, their all-star, he’s been putting up crazy numbers in the middle,” he said. “We served tough enough that they couldn’t run him. I thought we managed the middle when it came, but our serving took [Ryerson’s middle hitters] right out of the game—they weren’t there.”
Fourth-year outside hitter Jeff DeMeza led the Gaels with 16 kills. DeMeza said the team hoped to see McMaster in the final to give them a shot at revenge—the Marauders defeated Queen’s twice this season.
“It’s been them the last few years, so it will be another chapter in the saga.”
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