Silver lining for volleyball

Men play nine matches in 11 days, place second at Excalibur Classic

Joren Zeeman makes a dig against Waterloo Oct. 20.
Joren Zeeman makes a dig against Waterloo Oct. 20.
Journal File Photo

The men’s volleyball team didn’t get much of a winter break as they undertook one of the most grueling stretches of their season. The Gaels played nine matches in 11 days, beginning with a tournament in Florida against American schools and concluding with a silver medal in the Excalibur Classic against CIS teams. Middle hitter Chris Vandyk said the high level of play made the Florida trip stand out for him. “Florida was fantastic. The competition was really good,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to play against consistently high-level teams.”

The Florida tournament featured four Canadian schools and four American schools, with each team competing against every team from the other country. Besides Queen’s, the University of Manitoba, Brandon University and McMaster University represented the CIS, while California State University Long Beach, Pepperdine University, Lewis University and Ohio State University represented the NCAA. Brandon was the only Canadian team ranked in the most recent CIS top 10, at number nine, while Pepperdine, Long Beach and Ohio State all cracked the most recent NCAA top ten, placing second, sixth and 10th respectively.

The Gaels lost all four of their matches against American squads, but head coach Brenda Willis said this was largely due to the quality of the schools they played, and she was pleased with her

team’s efforts.

“Certainly the calibre of the opponents was higher in Florida,” she said.

“We went five [sets] with [eventual tournament champion] Long Beach, and four with Pepperdine, which is very, very good: they were in the NCAA Final Four. Last year, we went down there and we didn’t win a lot of sets. This year, we took sets off everybody. We would have liked to win a match, that would have been good, but our priority was to play everyone evenly in Florida, come back without injury and be successful at York, and I think we met all of those goals.”

Willis said the starting lineups of the Canadian and American schools were well-matched, but the NCAA schools had greater depth.

“In men’s volleyball, I’d have to say it’s pretty even [between the CIS and the NCAA],” she said. “The best CIS teams can beat the best NCAA teams when we’re both in the height of our season. Probably the biggest difference is the depth of the American benches: they can go twelve deep and not dip very much because of the scholarships. You can buy a whole roster, so to speak.”

Soon after the Gaels returned to Canada, they travelled to York University to compete in the Excalibur Classic against schools from Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Queen’s finished with a 3-1 record in pool play, with a five-set loss to the Dalhousie Tigers as their only blemish.

They then beat the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds in the semifinals to advance to a rematch with Dalhousie in the championship game, coming up short to lose in three sets.

Willis said the team’s hectic schedule was to blame for the loss.

“The jar got a little empty by the end-—a lot of matches in a short time,” she said. “We just ran out of gas. We went five [sets] with Dalhousie in the round robin, and that was 20 sets in two days, because we went five with Western, Ryerson, UNB and Dalhousie. That took its toll on us, especially coming off another tournament.”

Queen’s setter Devon Miller and libero Stu Hamilton were named to the Excalibur Classic all-star team. Miller said the tournament showcased some of the Gaels’ best play this year.

“At York, we really started to play some of our game that we haven’t had for a couple months now,” he said.

The Gaels will resume league play this weekend as they host the Western Mustangs and the Windsor Lancers tonight and tomorrow. On both nights, the women’s teams play at 6 p.m. in Bartlett Gym, with the men’s matches to follow at 8 p.m. Miller said his team is excited for the rematch with the Mustangs, who beat the Gaels in a close five-set match in November.

“I think the whole team’s getting really pumped about it,” he said. “We let them get away with one in the first semester. We were up, and just kind of fell apart. I think we’re in a better state of mind now, and we’ll be able to take it to them.”

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