Volleyball can’t topple Mac

Queen’s sweeps Guelph but snaps 10-game unbeaten streak at home against McMaster

Men’s volleyball outside hitter Niko Rukavina goes for a block Saturday night against McMaster. The Gaels lost in four sets.
Men’s volleyball outside hitter Niko Rukavina goes for a block Saturday night against McMaster. The Gaels lost in four sets.

The men’s volleyball team came up with a huge three-set victory over the 13-5 Guelph Gryphons on Friday, improving their record to 14-5 and clinching the second playoff spot in the OUA. The straight-set win was crucial: the Gaels lost an epic five-set duel Nov. 23 to the Gryphons in Guelph, and sets for and against are used as a tie-breaker if the tied teams split their regular-season matches. It was also a momentum boost after their loss to the 4-14 Laurier Golden Hawks.

Pete Galbraith, who filled the libero role while Stu Hamilton recovers from pneumonia, said he was elated at the match’s outcome.

“That felt very good,” he said. “I wish we’d played that well earlier, in November, when we lost to them.”

Both teams got off to slow starts Friday, committing multiple serving, passing and hitting errors and net violations. The Gaels lost five points on service errors in the first set alone, while the Gryphons conceded six in the same period.

The Gaels managed to play more disciplined volleyball in the later sets, however, and pulled off the victory. Outside hitter Niko Rukavina recorded all of his seven kills in the second and third sets.

Rukavina said he felt confident enough in his play to ask for more sets in the later stages of the match.

“I wasn’t getting a lot of sets in the first game, and I told [setter Devon Miller] after the break, ‘I’m ready to hit,’” he said. “I started hitting balls, and we started scoring, which felt really good.”

The first set was fairly even. Guelph led most of the time but could never build a comfortable lead, only opening up two-and three-point margins.

With the Gryphons leading 20-17, veteran middle hitter Chris Vandyk came off the bench for the Gaels and helped tie the game. The teams battled back and forth until Guelph middle hitter Chris Grenier drilled a ball into the net to give the Gaels a 26-25 lead. Outside hitter Joren Zeeman, who led Queen’s with 11 kills, went up for a middle hit but Guelph blocked him. The blocked ball bounced off Zeeman’s head while he hung in the air, and flew back over the net to the Gryphons’ side of the court. Guelph couldn’t recover the ball, and the Gaels won the set 27-25.

The second set was much more one-sided. Queen’s had taken a 13-10 lead when a bat came diving out of the rafters, flew by the players in the middle of a point and then made circles around the gym, prompting the referee to halt the game for several minutes while the players tried to shoo the bat away with their sweatshirts and jackets.

Hamilton said the bat wasn’t that unusual of a sight for the Gaels.

“We’ve seen it during practice before, but never during a game,” he said.

“That was spectacular, during a game. We’re thinking, ‘Are we going to have to catch this thing?’”

The bat eventually returned to its roost high in the rafters, and the game resumed.

After the interruption, the Gaels seemed fired up, and went on a 12-7 run to clinch the second set by an eight-point margin. In the third set the Gaels never trailed en route to a 25-19 victory.

The win improved the Gaels’ home record to 9-0, which Hamilton chalked up to the team’s fan support.

“This is our barn,” he said. “We don’t lose here.”

Hamilton’s bold claim didn’t pay off the next night, though, as the Gaels lost 25-19, 25-23, 18-25, 25-20 to the McMaster Marauders.

The Marauders’ win completed their bid for a perfect regular season, as they finished with a 20-0 record.

Fifth-year middle hitter Nick Gralewicz—who was playing in his last regular-season match for the Gaels along with Miller, Vandyk and outside hitter Dan McCrae—said the team expected to do better.

“We could have improved on a couple fronts,” he said. “Our middle connection was a bit off, and I think just because of illness and injury and whatnot, we didn’t put out our strongest lineup.”

McCrae said the problem was the Gaels’ inability to finish the job when they had chances to put McMaster away.

“We just didn’t close,” he said. “We were up in most of the sets, and it was just the last few points. We kind of let up a little bit, and it was those points that decided the sets.”

With the second seed locked up, the team will host a playoff game Feb. 16 against the winner of Wednesday’s clash between Guelph and the Ryerson Rams. Miller said consistency will be key for the Gaels’ success in the playoffs.

“When we’re focused, we’re a very good team,” he said.

“[We’ll have success] if we can do that on a more consistent basis. ... We’ve shown we can lose to some pretty shitty teams, but we’ve also shown we can play with the best.”

For coverage of the women’s volleyball team’s sweep of the Lakehead Thunderwolves on the weekend, please see Friday’s Journal.

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