Five straight wins to end season

Gaels sweep Western and Windsor to secure home advantage for OUA quarter-final

The men’s volleyball team celebrates after a 3-0 win over the Windsor Lancers at the ARC on Sunday.
The men’s volleyball team celebrates after a 3-0 win over the Windsor Lancers at the ARC on Sunday.
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After sweeping the Western Mustangs and the Windsor Lancers in straight sets at home this weekend, the men’s volleyball team hasn’t lost a set in five games.

“I can’t remember the last time we won 3-0, 3-0 two weekends in a row,” captain Niko Rukavina said. “It’s a nice feeling going into the playoffs.”

The Gaels locked up a 12-6 record and a third-place regular-season finish in the OUA with Sunday’s win over the Lancers, meaning the Guelph Gryphons will travel to Kingston on Feb. 18 for an OUA quarter-final.

Rukavina, who’s been dealing with an ankle injury all season, said the team would use the time off to rest ahead of the playoff stint and the national championship that Queen’s is hosting March 2 to 4.

This weekend’s wins were part of a turnaround for the team — the Gaels went 5-4 in the first nine games and 7-2 in their last nine. They lost 3-0 to the first-place Mustangs and the fourth-place Lancers in November.

“Everyone was doubting [Queen’s] earlier in the year,” Mustangs head coach Jim Sage said. “They had a ton of injuries and you were never sure what their lineup was going to be.

“[Gaels head coach Brenda Willis] is starting to solidify that lineup now,” he said. “They’ll be dangerous in the playoffs.”

Will Sidgwick and Matt Taylor were the Gaels’ outside hitters for the November games against the Mustangs and the Lancers. This weekend, Rukavina and fourth-year Alex Oneid started instead.

“Alex was great defensively back there and he just gets the job done,” Sage said. “Niko’s starting to warm up at that left side position.”

Sage said that Saturday’s game between the Gaels and the Mustangs didn’t mean anything for his team, who had already locked up the OUA’s top spot.

“It’s a nothing game,” he said. “I know I felt that. I go ‘I just don’t want an injury here.’”

Oneid was familiar with the Mustangs players — he played with Western’s middle hitter Phil James and libero Andre Begin in high school. He said although the Mustangs didn’t show up to play, the win still felt sweet.

“Other than when we won OUAs in my second year, their record against us has been better than our record against them,” he said. “It always feels good to sneak a win, especially when they’re having such a good year.”

Even though Oneid is one of the Gaels’ shortest players at 5’11,” Willis said he’s leading the team along with Rukavina and outside Joren Zeeman.

“[The leaders] are a combination of Alex and Niko in terms of strategy and communication and certainly Joren in terms of scoring,” she said. “What Alex brought while the injuries were a problem was tremendous — the energy, the defence, the playing intelligence.

“To his credit, he’s earned his way into the starting six.”

Zeeman led the Gaels in scoring this weekend with 33 points.

Willis said she was happy with how her team stayed focused when they were in the lead.

“We did a much better job of staying intense, staying focused, playing with urgency, playing tactically,” she said. “A lot of the guys are tired of hearing about beating the teams lower in standings. We know we can beat the teams in the top of the standings and now everybody else knows too.”

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