Volleyball spikes 34-year drought

Men earn first CIS championship wins since 1972, place fifth overall

Queen’s keeps the ball alive in CIS championship action.
Queen’s keeps the ball alive in CIS championship action.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Chan / pbase.com/goldengaelsphotos
The Gaels adjusted their gameplan to the stiffer competition.
The Gaels adjusted their gameplan to the stiffer competition.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Chan / pbase.com/goldengaelsphotos

The men’s volleyball team capped off their golden season last weekend with a tournament to remember. To add to their conference title, the men pulled off Queen’s volleyball’s first wins at the CIS championships in 34 years.

Queen’s opened their bid with a match against last year’s silver medalists, second-seeded Trinity Western University from Langley, B.C.

The Gaels went in knowing they would be facing competition the likes of which they had not encountered in the OUA.

As a rule, first-round opponents are required to exchange match tapes, which allowed Queen’s to get some idea of what they would be up against.

“It’s a pretty tactical game at the higher levels,” said head coach Brenda Willis.

She said the coaches worked to simulate the different hitting and blocking tactics of the western team but couldn’t quite match the real thing.

“The biggest thing was their serving,” Willis said.

Experience and size played a significant role in the outcome of the match. Trinity Western’s roster is composed mainly of fourth- and fifth-year players, with only one of them coming in under 6’5”.

Queen’s went in feeling strong but was unable to hold off the Spartans, falling in three sets. But the men would not be so easily put off.

“After the defeat there was some frustration, but as a team we managed to set that aside and focus on the opportunity at hand,” Willis said.

They regrouped, ready to offer QSSF conference champions the Laval Rouge et Or some stiff competition.

“[Fifth] was still a realistic and exciting goal for us,” Willis said, referring to the fact that, having lost their first game, the Gaels were relegated to playing for the fifth through eighth spots.

The Gaels made their intentions clear from the beginning, taking the first two sets. Losing a little of that crucial sense of urgency, Willis said the team may have temporarily lost focus, allowing their opponents back into the match.

Dropping two close sets to Laval, Queen’s entered the fifth set with renewed vigour. Jeff DeMeza came off the bench and led his team to a 15-11 fifth set victory.

“[DeMeza] just got on fire. He was the difference,” Willis said.

The win set up Sunday’s match against host team McMaster for fifth place. Mac was looking to avenge its semifinal loss to Queen’s in the OUA playoffs but was never given the chance. Queen’s took the Marauders out in straight sets for a final score of 3-0 (25-21, 25-18, 25-19) and a ranking of fifth in the country.

“It was really nice to see our team come together and beat [McMaster] 3-0,” Willis said.

She also said she believes that between fourth and fifth, under the circumstances, fifth was the better of the two positions.

Instead of the tears and harsh expletives that marked the end of fourth-place Dalhousie’s medal hopes, the Gaels finished off their season with hugs and high fives.

“We got to end on a win,” she said.

With little pressure placed on them, the men were looking more for a good experience than any specific goals. Outside hitter Dan McCrae said winning the OUA championships had been the main focus all season and, having succeeded in that, anything more was just a bonus.

And every man earned his bonus, with strong performances all around.

Rookie outside and libero-in-training Stu Hamilton stepped up, contributing his consistent passing skills.

“He did a really good job of controlling the ball from the back court,” Willis said.

She also said that outside Luke Lichty was a steady force for the Gaels all weekend.

The players cited the strong bond they formed with each other as a major factor in their success. They said the team trip to Holland during the Christmas break really helped to cement their friendships. It was also where they picked up their ritual of calling out “ein!”, the Dutch word for the number one, when they are within one point of victory.

“It’s the Dutch tradition,” said Hamilton.

It is one of the few superstitions the team maintains.

“We just remind each other of all the good times we’ve had,” McCrae said of the team’s pre-game routine.

The Gaels will lose only one player as they graduate middle hitter and team captain Ryan McCracken, who said he believes the team will have no trouble filling the void.

All in all the team is optimistic about the future of its program, looking to continue to exceed expectations and defy the predictions. Referring to Golden Words’ prognostications for their trip to Hamilton, outside hitter Mo Slaibeh had time for a joke.

“We all came out alive,” he said.

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