Eyes on March

Men’s team looks toward nationals

The men's volleyball team is 8-6 and fifth in the OUA.
The men's volleyball team is 8-6 and fifth in the OUA.
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It’s been a tough season for the men’s volleyball team, but coach Brenda Willis is quietly confident as she looks toward the CIS championship in March. The team went 3-4 in its first seven regular season games, but is 5-2 since then.

“The first half of the season wasn’t part of the original plan,” Willis said. “The guys have made a lot of progress and have started to gel really well.”

As hosts, the Gaels automatically have a place as one of the eight teams at the national championship — their first appearance since they finished fifth two seasons ago. With eight players set to graduate, the team isn’t likely to have another shot at a national title for at least four years.

This season was supposed to be all about the team’s five fifth-year players — outside hitters Joren Zeeman, Bryan Fautley and Niko Rukavina, middle Mike Amoroso and setter Dan Rosenbaum. All five committed to return this season so they could win a national title. But so far this season, they haven’t even been on the court together.

The team has struggled without Rosenbaum, who has a hip injury, and Fautley, who’s suffering from a back injury. Rukavina can’t jump because of an ankle injury, bumping him from outside hitter to libero.

This season, Rosenbaum hasn’t played at all and Fautley has only played five sets all season. Willis said Fautley won’t play this weekend. Rukavina has succeeded in his new defensive role and is a strong candidate for OUA Libero of the Year after leading the league in defensive stats.

Willis said the team’s healthy fifth-years — Zeeman and Amoroso — are both contenders for a place on the OUA All-Star team. Zeeman leads the OUA with 4.3 points per set.

The OUA All-Star team won’t be announced until after the end of the Gaels’ regular season on Feb. 5.

The team is on the road this weekend to face the Toronto Varsity Blues and the Ryerson Rams — both teams are out of the playoffs with only two wins each. Next weekend, the Gaels host the first-place Western Mustangs and the third-place Windsor Lancers.

The Gaels are in fifth place at 8-6. They’ve already clinched a spot in the OUA playoffs, but the games against Western and Windsor will determine who they play in the quarter-finals. Queen’s lost to both teams in early November.

“We’re confident we’ll close out the season with four wins,” Rosenbaum said.” “Hopefully, that will put us in place to host a quarter-final game.”

The team with the best regular season record — likely Western or the McMaster Marauders — hosts the OUA Final Four Feb. 24 and 25. Willis said anything besides an OUA championship would make the Gaels an eighth-seed at nationals, forcing them to play the Trinity Western Spartans in the first round. The Spartans are the defending CIS champions and are undefeated in the competitive Canada West division this season.

The Gaels played two exhibition games with the Spartans over the winter break — all of the seven sets between the two teams were decided by a margin of less than four points and the Gaels won one set 36-34.

In less than two months, the team’s season will be over. Eight players will have touched a volleyball for the last time in their Queen’s careers.

“We’re in the final push of our season,” Rosenbaum said. “After this weekend, we’re going to treat every game as a must-win situation.”

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