In front of the largest home crowd of the season, the nationally-ranked No. 6 Queen’s men’s volleyball team took to the ARC for their quarterfinal match against the No. 10 Windsor Lancers on Saturday, Feb. 29.
In a rematch of last year’s semi-final game, either the Gaels or the Lancers would end the night just short of the coveted Final Four tournament, whose top three finishers go on to nationals.
In an interview, outside hitter Adam Boljkovac recalled the moments going into the match: “We went into the game with the mentality that it was a final. Nothing afterwards mattered, we were 100 per cent focused on that one opponent.”
Giant posters of the Queen’s players dotted the crowd, but nothing proved bigger than the coordinated efforts of the Gaels on the court.
The outstanding consistency and communication by the Gaels in the first set was nothing short of the perfect embodiment of what their entire season has been.
Clean digs by libero Lukas Kaufman blended into the hands of setter Zane Grossinger, who flawlessly assisted to the likes of either Zac Hutcheson, Adam Boljkovac, or rookie Erik Siksna.
No matter who found the ball from Grossinger, the Windsor defence was consistently left scrambling for answers.
Even so, the Lancers didn’t roll over—led by their powerhouse captain, Pierce Johnson, the Lancers held strong at the net.
They averaged a 0.5 higher block percentage than the Tricolour, rarely allowing the Gaels’ challenges to go unanswered. Their continuous efforts made for a tight first set, which the Gaels ultimately took 25-23.
If the first set was too close for comfort for the Gaels, you wouldn’t have known it by watching the second set, which Queen’s easily took with their most powerful performance of the match. Boljkovac’s well-known theatrics didn’t fall short, as he struck the ball with an intensity that no Lancer could defend.
Grossinger, launching himself eye-to-eye with a Lancer at the net, dished a giant block to the Windsor middle, only adding to his sky-high confidence. Grossinger’s intimidation continued to fray the Lancers’ nerves, sealing the fate of the second set in Queen’s favour, 25-20.
Down 2-0 in the match and with their season on the line, the Lancers were a desperate team. The third set was tight—the teams were never separated by more than a couple points. Windsor led the Gaels going into the technical timeout.
“I think the thing that kept us in that set, [the third set], was our composure,” stated captain Zac Hutcheson in an interview with The Journal. “We knew that if we focused on what was happening on our side of the net and took care of that, it would put us in a position to take the set, and that’s what we did.”
In a perfect ending to the Gaels’ home season, where they were 10-1, the coordinated efforts of the two graduating players, Hutcheson and Boljkovac, ultimately clinched the Tricolour’s ticket to the Final Four.
After the return of his own sharp serve, Hutcheson’s dig eventually aligned for Grossinger’s perfect set into the hands of Boljkovac, whose kill rang off of the hands of the Lancer defender and into the stands, ending Windsor’s playoff run with a 25-21 victory for the Gaels.
Hutcheson combined with Boljkovac for 23 of Queen’s 38 kills.
Although the dominating performances of the veterans came as no surprise, the efforts of rookie rising stars Erik Siksna and Dax Tompkins made Queen’s depth formidable. Together, the two rookies made up 11 of the remaining 15 kills, and they added six blocks and three aces as well.
Queen’s will head to Hamilton next weekend where they’ll face their long-time rival, McMaster, in the semi-finals. In their only meeting this year, the Gaels swept the Marauders in three sets on the same night Queen’s 2018-2019 championship banner was raised.
Even so, the rematch of last year’s OUA final game will demand the best from the Gaels if they hope to keep the Forsyth Cup in their hands.
“The mentality that the team has going into the semi-final against [McMaster] is confidence,” said Hutcheson. “We know that Gabe [DeGroot] and the coaching staff will put us in the best possible position to take this game, and that’s what we intend to do.”
For Assistant Coach and former Gael Thomas Ellison, “[It’s] the same mentality we’ve had all year.”
According to Ellison, the three keys to claiming victory are, “Execute our game plan, trust in each other, and play our game.”
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