Volleyball trip to Florida goes sour

Gaels lose Lichty and Amoroso to injury, finish second at York Excalibur Volleyball Classic

Add the men’s volleyball team to the list of those with bad travel experiences over the holidays. Their trip to Florida over the winter break to play in the Innisbrook Resort Collegiate Volleyball Invitational Tournament went south in a hurry when they got stuck in an airport all night thanks to airline difficulties.

“We ended up sleeping in the Atlanta airport,” setter Dan Rosenbaum said. “Needless to say, it wasn’t the greatest experience.”

Rosenbaum said the fatigue hurt the team’s performance in the tournament.

“We got down there a day later than we should have,” he said. “It wasn’t too bad, but lack of sleep kind of caught up to us.”

That proved to be a harbinger of worse things to come, as the squad lost two key players to injury and was also hit by a flu bug.

Rosenbaum said the team’s first match, against the University of Manitoba Bisons on Dec. 28, was going well until starting middle hitter Michael Amoroso sprained his ankle. With him out, the Gaels lost in three sets. The situation degraded further in the team’s next training session, when fifth-year outside hitter and team captain Luke Lichty dislocated his shoulder again, ending his season.

Rosenbaum said Lichty’s loss is a huge blow for the team.

“He’s our captain and his leadership skills are phenomenal,” he said.

Lichty said he’ll miss playing, but he’s planning to help the team from the bench.

“For sure, it’s disappointing,” he said. “I love playing volleyball and I’d rather be on the floor, but I’ll stay on the bench and do whatever I can to help out.”

Lichty said it’s been a tough couple of seasons for him. He missed most of last season with a shoulder injury and was back to playing this season, but said he still wasn’t in peak form even before reinjuring his shoulder.

“Physically, I wasn’t where I wanted to be this year due to various injuries,” he said.

Lichty said he thinks he’ll still be able to help the team though.

“Even though I can’t be on the floor, I feel I can still bring something to the team and be a voice of experience, a voice of leadership,” he said.

Head coach Brenda Willis said the tiredness and the injuries caught up to the Gaels in their next match, which they lost in straight sets to the University of Guelph Gryphons.

“Nobody was really into it,” she said.

Several players and coaches soon developed the flu, which proved a further setback. The Gaels managed to pull out a five-set win over the University of British Columbia-Okanagan Heat in their final match in Florida on New Year’s Eve, though, and Willis said the adversity gave some of her younger players a chance to shine, in particular rookie outside hitter Matt Taylor.

“It was really nice to see Matt Taylor step up and do a good job,” she said.

Willis was also pleased with the play of first-year middle hitters Anthony Pitfield and Darren Edwards, who stepped up due to Amoroso’s injury.

“They got an opportunity to develop under pressure that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.

After the match against UBC-Okanagan, the Gaels headed back to Ontario to play in the York Excalibur Volleyball Classic. The new year brought better results for the team, and they started off strong with a straight-sets victory over the Ryerson Rams on Friday afternoon. Friday night saw them win a close five-set battle with the Windsor Lancers with Willis using a five-rookie starting lineup. The Gaels then pulled out a four-set win over the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds on Saturday morning to conclude the round-robin portion of the tournament. Queen’s then knocked off the Western Mustangs Saturday evening to advance to Sunday’s final against the fifth-ranked Dalhousie Tigers.

The Gaels came out strong in the final and twice served for match point in the fourth set, but couldn’t put the Tigers away. They had further opportunities to win in the fifth set, but came up short. Willis said she was happy with the team’s effort, especially given their fatigue.

“We were at a point against Dal where perhaps there wasn’t really a lot left in the jar,” she said. “I was pleased with how we played. I thought we played well enough to beat them, except when it counted.”

There’s no rest for the weary in the near future, though. The 8-2 Gaels return to OUA play this weekend with home matches against two tough teams, the third-ranked and OUA-leading McMaster Marauders (10-0) and the University of Guelph Gryphons (5-5). Willis said beating McMaster will require a lot of support from the fans and perfect execution from her squad.

“If we’re going to beat Mac at home, we’re going to need a great crowd,” she said. “We’re going to have to serve tough and run the middle. Everyone’s going to have to bring their A-game.”

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