Gaels open post-season at home

Men’s volleyball to open OUA playoffs against Guelph in rematch of 2010 OUA final

Middle Anthony Pitfield practices on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s QUA quarter-final against Guelph.
Middle Anthony Pitfield practices on Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s QUA quarter-final against Guelph.
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Saturday’s OUA quarter-final will be the Gaels’ first playoff game against the Guelph Gryphons since the 2010 OUA final at McMaster two seasons ago. In that game, the men’s volleyball team overcame a four-point deficit in the fifth set to claim the OUA gold medal.

Team captain Niko Rukavina said he’s memorized the last three plays of that game by watching the YouTube video.

The fifth-year will start at outside hitter against the Guelph Gryphons on Saturday at the ARC.

“We’ve all just come together and realized that we’re not going to have any more second chances after this,” Rukavina said.

The 2010 OUA championship gave the Gaels a berth at the national championship in Kamloops, B.C., where they placed fifth. The Gaels have an automatic berth this year, since they’re hosting the Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship March 2 to 4.

Outside hitter Winston Rosser is the only member of the current Gryphons squad who played in the 2010 final. This season, he was fourth in the OUA with 3.8 points per set.

Gaels outside hitter Joren Zeeman is one of eight Gaels from that game who’s still playing for Queen’s. He led the OUA in scoring this season with 4.5 points per set.

Fifth-year Gaels Dan Rosenbaum and Bryan Fautley also played in the 2010 OUA final, but they’ve both missed this season with injuries.

Rukavina couldn’t jump for most of the season because of an injured ankle and he’s still recovering from the surgery he underwent on Dec. 23. He’ll need more surgery when the season ends, but he’s cleared to play in Saturday’s game.

“I’ve been doing a lot of work in therapy ... to keep it as strong and able-to-go as I can,” he said. “It’s still a bit painful, but it’s definitely good.”

Gryphons head coach Cal Wigston said his team was fortunate to play an injured Gaels roster in both of their regular-season games this year. The Gryphons beat the Gaels 3-0 in Guelph in November and 3-2 at the ARC in January.

“We were playing really well at that time, all of us were healthy and we beat them,” he said. “This match will be totally different. Queen’s is pretty motivated to get back at it after we beat them twice.”

The Gaels finished the season third in the OUA with a 12-6 record and earned their first top-10 national ranking this week. Despite having beaten the Gaels twice, the Gryphons finished sixth in the OUA with a 9-9 record.

“Queen’s got hot at the right time and they won the matches that they needed to win,” Wigston said.

The Gaels went 5-4 in their first nine games but were 7-2 in their last nine, winning their last five games in straight sets. The Gryphons went 6-3 to start the season, but finished at 3-6.

Guelph setter Kevin Carey has missed five games with a concussion and the Gryphons went 1-4 without him. Wigston said Carey’s chances of being back for Saturday’s game aren’t great.

“Queen’s is playing really well right now and ... we’re coming into this playoff in a slump,” Wigston said. “We really just hope that we’re healthy enough to give it everything we’ve got.”

The Gryphons ended their regular season with losses to the York Lions and the Toronto Varsity Blues — both of whom finished with worse records than Guelph.

“Their confidence can’t be at the same level as ours,” Gaels head coach Brenda Willis said. “The beginning of the match is going to be important. We can come out, have a really good presence and take control right away.”

Willis said the Gaels have learned to focus on performance rather than outcome since the two regular-season losses to Guelph. The team worked with Peter Jensen, a performance coach and Queen’s School of Business instructor, to prepare for the playoffs.

“We used to make the last couple of points [of the set] a big deal,” Willis said. “Things changed in terms of aggression ... now we’re just playing to put a point on the board.”

Willis said she knows what Guelph will try to do on Saturday.

“The key to beating Guelph is managing [Rosser],” she said. “It’s like other teams trying to manage [Zeeman].”

Willis said she’s confident about the weekend.

“You have to go into a match thinking you’re going to win … and win authoritatively.”

Saturday’s quarter-final is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the ARC. If the Gaels win, they’ll travel to Western for the OUA final four Feb. 24 to 25.

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