Season ends on sour note

Undefeated McMaster beats Queen’s men in OUA volleyball finals

Gaels’ middle hitter Michael Amoroso goes up for a block against Ryerson in the OUA semifinals Feb. 16. The Gaels beat the Rams in four sets, but their season ended with two straight losses to the McMaster Marauders in the best-of-three OUA finals.
Gaels’ middle hitter Michael Amoroso goes up for a block against Ryerson in the OUA semifinals Feb. 16. The Gaels beat the Rams in four sets, but their season ended with two straight losses to the McMaster Marauders in the best-of-three OUA finals.
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In a clash of Ontario volleyball titans, the Gaels took on the McMaster Marauders for the second straight year in the OUA finals Feb. 21. A chance to become three-time OUA champions, claim the Ontario title for the fifth time in eight years and lock up the province’s single berth in next month’s national championships was at stake.

The Gaels lost that chance. They came up short against the undefeated Marauders and lost in straight sets both last Tuesday in Kingston and last Thursday in Hamilton. The losses marked a bitter end to a playoff run that started with solid four-set win over the Ryerson Rams the previous week.

After Thursday’s game, head coach Brenda Willis said there’s still pride in being second-best, but success always brings high expectations.

“Three in a row is pretty tough to do,” she said. “There’s nine other teams that would like that silver medal, and considering I played three rookies an awful lot, that speaks really well for our future.”

Willis said the Gaels brought their best performance, but the Marauders were simply a stronger team.

“I thought we played pretty well, actually—almost as well as we’ve played all year,” she said. “I just think it was McMaster’s year. They didn’t falter all season—they won every match they played and have an undefeated season. They are ranked second in the country for all the right reasons.”

Gaels’ outside hitter Joren Zeeman was named OUA Rookie of the Year before the finals, while Stu Hamilton picked up the Libero of the Year award and Devon Miller and Jeff DeMeza were both named first team All-Stars. This week, Zeeman was named to the CIS All-Rookie team and Miller was named a second team All-Canadian.

Fifth-year setter and co-captain Miller, who recorded 73 assists over the two matches, said he thinks Queen’s could have done more against McMaster.

“We just got outplayed,” he said. “Their guys were playing well, but it’s always disappointing to go out without your best performance.”

Fifth-year outside hitter Dan McCrae, the Gaels’ other co-captain, contributed eight kills. He said the team should have stepped up to match McMaster’s high level of play.

“We just didn’t respond,” he said. “We kept talking about it and talking about it, but it’s a matter of doing it, and we didn’t do it.”

At first, Queen’s looked as though they might have a chance in the Feb. 21 match. The Gaels took a 23-22 lead late in the closely contested first set. The tide changed after McMaster called a timeout, and coach Dave Preston, who was named OUA coach of the year before the finals, gave his team a pep talk.

The Marauders reeled off a three-point run to clinch the set, followed by 25-20 and 25-21 wins to take the match, the championship and the national berth. In the process, they also finished off an undefeated season of OUA play, which Preston said he didn’t think was possible going into the year.

“Not in the OUA, with the 20 matches and the quality of competition,” he said. “An undefeated season’s just something that’s beyond our goals. I’m very happy it happened, but it clearly wasn’t one of our goals.”

McMaster’s powerful pair of brothers doomed the Gaels.

Fifth-year middle hitter and 2008 OUA Most Valuable Player Nathan Groenveld recorded six kills on only eight attempts for an amazing .750 kill percentage; his younger brother Jeremy put up a team-high 12 kills on just 19 attempts.

Gaels’ fourth-year outside hitter Jeff DeMeza also recorded 12 kills, but no other Gael reached double digits and only McCrae and Niko Rukavina put up more than five kills.

Nathan Groenveld said the Marauders had hoped to avenge their defeat during last year’s OUA final against the Gaels.

“We’ve been waiting since last year, when we lost a three-game battle—a war of attrition,” he said. “That feeling kind of motivated us through summer in workouts, and it was phenomenal to get to play truly the second-best team at this point in the province.”

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