Marauders stumble against Gaels

Queen’s hands McMaster their first loss since 2007 in a five-set thriller

Gaels’ outside hitter Jeff DeMeza goes for a block against McMaster Saturday at Bartlett Gym. Queen’s won in five sets.
Gaels’ outside hitter Jeff DeMeza goes for a block against McMaster Saturday at Bartlett Gym. Queen’s won in five sets.
Photo: 
Queen’s middle hitter Sam Pedlow gets blocked by McMaster’s Tyler Santoni Saturday at Bartlett Gym. McMaster lost for the first time since 2007.
Queen’s middle hitter Sam Pedlow gets blocked by McMaster’s Tyler Santoni Saturday at Bartlett Gym. McMaster lost for the first time since 2007.
Photo: 

Even titans stumble occasionally, as the third-ranked McMaster Marauders men’s volleyball team proved in their five-set loss to Queen’s Saturday. McMaster came out strong and won the first two sets 26-24 and 25-15, but the Gaels battled back with 25-22 and 25-9 victories to force a fifth set. The decisive set swung back and forth, but a crucial block by second-year middle hitter Michael Amoroso and a service ace by fifth-year outside hitter Jeff DeMeza proved to be the difference in the end, giving the Gaels a 17-15 victory.

Second-year outside hitter Niko Rukavina said the momentum the Gaels built proved to be the difference.

“When we get on a roll, it’s hard to stop us,” he said. “After that fourth set, I was 100 per cent sure we were going to win.”

Rukavina said it was great for the Gaels to pull off a win in their first league game after an off-season trip to Florida that saw them go 1-2 and lose two key players to injury.

“The travel bug kind of hit us a bit,” he said. “It felt good to get back on track.”

Rukavina said the victory shows the Gaels can compete with any top team.

“We have the confidence, we can beat them,” he said.

Second-year outside hitter Joren Zeeman led the Gaels with 21 kills, DeMeza added 13 kills and Rukavina chipped in 10 kills, two service aces and seven digs. He also recorded 15 straight serves in the fourth set.

McMaster got overconfident, DeMeza said, after handily winning the first two sets.

“They’re a really good team, but we lulled them to sleep in the middle there,” he said, adding that the Gaels focused on improving their teamwork after the first couple of sets.

“We just started playing as a team, playing together,” he said. “Finally we played some good volleyball at the end.”

DeMeza said he enjoyed the pressure of serving with the game on the line.

“That’s where I want to be,” he said. “That’s why I play the sport.”

It was McMaster’s first loss in their last 34 OUA regular season and playoff games and Queen’s first win over McMaster since the 2007 OUA final. The teams have combined for the last three OUA championships and have met in the last two finals, with the Gaels winning the first clash and the Marauders taking home the title last year.

DeMeza said the history between the teams made Saturday’s win special.

“It’s been a while since we’ve won against that team,” he said.

Head coach Brenda Willis said she was pleased with the team’s early play, but things went downhill towards the end of the first set.

“I thought in the first set we played well enough to win, we just didn’t take care of things at the end,” she said.

Willis said she thought the team was getting too tense after losing the first two sets, so she told them to loosen up.

“I told them, ‘It’s our gym, let’s just play,’” she said. “We took the pressure off ourselves.”

Queen’s won by outthinking McMaster and running deceptive plays, Willis said.

“We talked a lot about how we’re not going to beat them with pure muscle, we need to beat them with smarts.”

The win did come with one caveat, as Nathan Groenveld, last year’s OUA MVP, didn’t suit up for McMaster due to illness. Still, Willis said beating such a highly-touted team will do wonders for the Gaels’ confidence.

“It proved to our young team that we’re as good as anyone in the country,” she said.

The Gaels followed Saturday’s performance up with a three-set win over Guelph Sunday. DeMeza led the team with 11 kills, and Rukavina added 10 kills and two service aces.

Queen’s will go on the road to play the Waterloo Warriors and the Laurier Golden Hawks next weekend.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.