Men’s volleyball enters their season with playoff aspirations and old and new sets of hands taking the reins.
Coming off an OUA quarterfinal exit in 2012-13, the Gaels open their season tonight on the road against the Guelph Gryphons.
With just two departing graduates, the team’s maturing leadership core is looking to push further into the post-season.
The Gaels wrapped up their preseason schedule with the Queen’s Invitational Tournament this past weekend, finishing with a 0-3 record.
The bright spot of the tournament was when the team managed to force a fifth set with the Manitoba Bisons, who were ranked fourth in the country last year.
The Gaels rounded out the preseason with a 2-8 exhibition record. With one of their wins coming against the Western Mustangs, who finished 13-5 in 2012-13, the record isn’t as bad as it seems.
“I think every aspect of our team needs to go up just a little bit,” said Gaels head coach Brenda Willis.
Injuries during the preseason have sidelined a number of the Gaels’ more experienced players.
Third-year middle Tyler Scheerhoon, third-year outside hitter Mike Tomlinson and fourth-year outside hitter Will Sidgwick were all kept out of action this past weekend.
Their absence has limited the Gaels’ ability to execute in certain situations so far. Willis said their injuries should be resolved in the next three to four weeks.
Also absent from the court is former setter Jackson Dakin, who helped the Gaels defeat Western in the 2011-12 OUA final. After exhausting his CIS eligibility last season, Dakin has taken on a coaching role with the team.
Third-year setter Matt Bonshor has been tasked with taking over Dakin’s role as setter, a position he switched to when he first came to Queen’s.
Coach Willis plans to use 17-year-old first-year Thomas Ellison in addition to Bonshor as a one-two setting combination in different situations. The 6’4” Ellison adds size and depth as setter to the Gaels’ attack and defence.
“I think we have the tools to be good in setting — it’s just a process that we have to work through,” Willis said. “The faster we work through it, the better our record will be.”
The Gaels have set high goals for themselves, hoping to improve on a strong fourth-place showing last year.
“Our first goal is to make the playoffs [and] our second goal is to be in the final four in the OUA,” Willis said. “Right now, I feel like those might be lofty goals, but a lot of it depends on the health of our roster and the progress we make in setting.”
A young women’s volleyball team is gunning for a playoff spot and a shot at the OUA title in a tightly contested division.
Last season, the team finished fourth in the OUA during the regular season but struggled near the end, eventually leading to a first-round playoff exit.
York, Ottawa and Ryerson, the three teams that finished ahead of Queen’s during the regular season, as well as Toronto, are all members of the same division as the Gaels — the OUA East.
Head coach Joely Christian-Macfarlane said that with five good teams vying for the top four spots in the conference, every game matters for the Gaels.
“The East is a tough conference. The reality is we will have to bring our best game regardless of any of those teams,” she said. “Even the small matches … those are going to matter more.”
The roster this year is much younger than before, with only two fourth-year players and a single fifth-year. Instead, the majority of the team is made up of players in second and third year.
Part of the reason for such a young team is the departure of several key veterans from last year. Outside hitter and OUA All-Star Colleen Ogilvie graduated, as did veterans Katie Neville and Anna Pedjase.
Christian-Macfarlane said there are a few players on the team who could step up and replace the departed players, such as Katie Hagarty and Kelsey Bishop, who are both in their last year at Queen’s and have been named all-star players at past tournaments.
“They’ve both had really good pre-seasons and we’re hoping they are going to have a really good OUA season as well,” she said.
Alongside Hagarty and Bishop, a group of improved second-year players will help the team contend for a playoff spot.
Brett Hagarty made the all-rookie team last year, while Becky Wilson has stepped in as the team’s new starting libero.
“The first-years who have now become second-years are taking on their roles, and they’re taking them on with leadership,” Christian-Macfarlane said.
The team will need team success from old and new players alike to take one of the top four spots in the OUA East.
Christian-Macfarlane said that while the team’s ultimate goal is to win the OUA championship, they’re looking for a playoff spot at the bare minimum.
“Our goal is to be better every single performance,” she said. “We’ve got some new starters on the court, and as the year goes on [our goal is] seeing steady and marked improvement in that core group of athletes.”
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