Gaels clinch third with two wins

Veterans lead team in last regular-season appearance for Gaels

Outside hitter Katie Neville jumps to spike the ball against the Windsor Lancers on Sunday.
Outside hitter Katie Neville jumps to spike the ball against the Windsor Lancers on Sunday.

When Joely Christian-Macfarlane became the women’s volleyball head coach in 2007, she made outside hitters Becky Billings and Natalie Gray her first two official recruits.

Last weekend, both women played the last OUA regular season games of their careers, beating the Western Mustangs 3-1 and the Windsor Lancers 3-0.

Billings was the team’s starting libero for two years before moving to outside hitter this season. The Ottawa native has become a dual threat in her new position, sitting sixth in OUA in kills, with 162, and seventh in digs, with 217.

Last summer, Billings was chosen to represent Canada on the beach volleyball court at the FISU Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, China.

Gray, from Oshawa, has become the OUA’s biggest offensive threat this season, leading the league with 201 kills. She made the OUA all-rookie team in her first year, and was named to the OUA first-team all-star team in 2010 and 2011.

After this weekend’s wins, the Gaels close out the regular season at 13-5, good for third in the OUA. Gray said this season has been her most memorable year on the team.

“It’s crazy to see where we started and where we finished now,” she said. “In terms of facilities, we started in Bartlett and then graduated up to the ARC. In terms of our success, we’ve built up so much over the four years, it’s been great.”

Billings said although her last regular-season matches were emotional, she was focused on securing the victories for her team and tried not to think about the end of an era.

“We really just wanted to take care of the game and not let it get in to our heads,” she said. “Natalie and I had such a great time, we both played really well.”

The Gaels have a week off before hosting an OUA quarter-final at home on Feb. 18. They won’t know their opponent until regular season play wraps up this week.

Christian-Macfarlane wasn’t concerned about who her team would draw in the first round of the playoffs but rather chose to focus on the improvement of her team’s play.

“At the end of the day it’s going to be about us and executing on our side of the net,” she said. “I think we’ve proven that every team that steps in to the gym is a team that we can put the pressure on and take care of.”

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