End to title defence

Queen’s couldn’t overcome key injuries as they fell to McMaster

Outside Joren Zeeman recorded 24 points in the loss.
Outside Joren Zeeman recorded 24 points in the loss.
Journal File Photo

The men’s volleyball team’s season ended in demoralizing fashion last week, as they suffered a semifinal loss in four sets to the McMaster Marauders in Hamilton: 25-14, 25-19, 23-25 and 25-23. Joren Zeeman led the Gaels with 24-points in the losing effort.

The Gaels were hampered by recent injuries to veterans Niko Rukavina and Dan Rosenbaum, who both went down during practice recently. Their absences were evident in Hamilton, as an unfamiliar Gaels starting line-up got off to a tentative start. The Marauders took the first set handily, and also captured a close second set, as it took a while for the Gaels to find their stride.

In the third set, the Gaels came back from 8-5 and 16-12 deficits to pull one back.

Unfortunately that was as close as they would get, the Marauders clinched the match in the fourth set.

After a strong end to the regular season, and a dominating performance against Waterloo in their quarterfinal match, it seemed as if the Gaels were ready to go on another deep playoff run; however, just like in the regular season, injuries to veteran players came at the most unfortunate times.

Head coach Brenda Willis said that her team couldn’t catch a break.

“We’ve been battling injuries all year, but after about Feb. 10, we were becoming excited and optimistic. Things finally seemed to be rolling in our favour,” she said. “We overcame Niko’s injury in the build-up to the playoffs, but Dan’s was too much. We were just snake-bitten all year.” Throughout the year, the Gaels were characterized by their deep bench, as backup players consistently stepped up to fill in for veteran absences. Even so, Willis said a lack of consistency in their starting line-up let them down against a cohesive and experienced Marauders team.

“Even though the guys filled in well, everything became a bit more fragile. Things not related to Dan and Niko’s injuries, like serving and blocking, needed to step up,” she said. “Unfortunately, it seemed as if everything was connected. We struggled in all parts of our game.” Given the clear quality of the roster, and the proven ability to beat any other team when playing at their best, the Gaels were sometimes let down by mental lapses throughout the year. Willis said the consistent injury turmoil affected her team’s confidence.

“As defending champions, every other team was coming hard against us. Every team was jacked up to play us, and it was always about whether we pushed back,” she said. “Sometimes we didn’t show character, but we got better towards the end of the season. Unfortunately, the same symptoms showed up again at the start of the Mac game.”

The Gaels entered the playoffs with very high expectations, and will be devastated to find themselves out of the championship picture. Willis said her message to the team after the game was clear: win as a team, lose as a team.

“I told them that I didn’t want any one guy taking the burden,” she said. “A couple guys seemed to be wearing the loss on their own shoulders, but this should not be the case. Injuries played a factor, but as a group, we didn’t do what we needed to do. From serving to passing, every element could have been better.”

Although it’s difficult to look to the future so soon after a defeat, the Gaels have a lot to be excited about. Next year, Queen’s will host the CIS championships, and their current roster will remain intact.

“Our expectation is that everyone will be back,” Willis said. “Once it was confirmed that we would be hosting nationals, all the guys made the commitment to stay. Same team, same plan.”

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