Gaels win Ontario title

To play UBC today in round one of Canadian championships

Men’s volleyball beat McMaster in their game Feb. 15 to win the OUA championship. They play the UBC Thunderbirds today in Hamilton in round one of the CIS championships.
Men’s volleyball beat McMaster in their game Feb. 15 to win the OUA championship. They play the UBC Thunderbirds today in Hamilton in round one of the CIS championships.
Setter Devon Miller was named a CIS All-Canadian.
Setter Devon Miller was named a CIS All-Canadian.

Head coach Brenda Willis said that, unlike last year, the men’s volleyball team won’t be able to slip unnoticed into this weekend’s national championships.

“As the defending [provincial] champion and ending up first in the league, everyone is trying to dethrone you, to measure themselves by you,” she said. “You’re not invisible anymore.” But after winning their second straight provincial title at home in Bartlett Gym against the McMaster Marauders, the Gaels are ready for the attention. For Willis, it was her fourth provincial championship with the team. She was also awarded OUA Coach of the Year for the fifth time.

“The recognition is flattering but really wouldn’t have meant anything without [the win],” she said. “This was an accomplishment as a team.” The Gaels lost the first game in the best-of-three series but beat the Marauders at home on Feb. 15 to force last Saturday’s deciding match. Queen’s took the first set, but McMaster won the next two. Queen’s came back to win the fourth set to force a fifth and won the series and the title on a Dan McCrae kill.

Gaels’ setter and co-captain, Devon Miller, said performing under pressure is nothing new for the team.
“Whenever we’re down we respond. I don’t know what it is.” Miller, who was also named OUA Player of the Year, said he thinks the win will give the team more credibility on the national stage.

“Last year I think they thought we got in on a fluke.” Power hitter Jeff DeMeza said he doesn’t know if the win changes how the team will be seen by itsopponents. But regardless, he said the Gaels are better prepared to face tough teams than they were a year ago.

“Last year everything was new, and the OUA championship was the goal and we hit that so nationals just seemed them into pressure situations.
“We get a little bit relaxed at some points. You lose a little it of focus, make a couple of errors.”

But at nationals, Willis said, there won’t be any room for mistakes. “Our goal is to get through that first round and it’s not going to be easy.” She said the level of experience on her team will be a factor.

Though Queen’s middle hitters Chris Van Dyk and Nick Gralewicz are by no means neophytes, they’re both new to the starting lineup. They’re also smaller than most middle players in the country. The Gaels will also be without starter on the left side, Luke Lichty, who is out with a shoulder injury. Willis said he will need surgery before beginning training again. With Lichty out for the past several weeks, co-captain Andrew Bridgeman has returned to the starting spot he gave up at the beginning of the season due to a back injury. Stuart Hamilton moved out of his position at libero (a defensive specialist) to back Bridgeman up. “Stu filled the role very unselfishly,” Willis said. “In a sense, he lost the starting libero role.” Veteran Steve Willis once again took up the job of starting at libero, the position he held last season. The provincial championship final marked the last Ontario University Athletics game for both Steve Willis and Bridgeman. It was also Steve Willis’ third provincial title, the first coming in the 2000-01 season. “I’m absolutely ecstatic that we were able to win,” he said after the game. “Mac put up a great fight.”

Knowing now what to expect, he said, the team will approach nationals the same way they did last time. “The trust in each other, I think, is just the biggest thing. … For us now it’s all about preparing for the higher and harder game.” Coach Willis said she has confidence in her team’s abilities.

“If they execute, if they perform to the best of their ability, they win. Even if it doesn’t show on the scoreboard, they win.”

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