Gaels win OUA championship

Despite being heavy underdogs, the men's volleyball team beats the Western Mustangs to win a provincial title

As the host of the 2012 CIS men’s volleyball championship, Queen’s automatically had a berth in the national tournament. But captain Niko Rukavina wanted the team to earn their spot.

The Gaels did just that in London on Saturday, beating the Western Mustangs in the OUA final to secure a provincial championship.

“These guys have been through a lot of adversity, all the injuries and issues they had,” head coach Brenda Willis said. “All along, it’s been just reminding the guys ‘This is it.’”

The injury-ridden Gaels were a clear underdog going into the weekend’s OUA final four. The team wasn’t able to earn a spot on the national rankings until the end of the season, when they took 10th.

But they beat the ninth-place McMaster Marauders in the OUA semi-final and the fifth-place Western Mustangs to win the provincial championship. The Gaels lost both regular-season games to the Marauders and went 1-1 against the Mustangs.

In the final, the two teams were tied two sets in. Queen’s led 24-22 in the third set, but lost 25-27 to put the Mustangs up 2-1. With the fourth set tied 2-2, Queen’s outside Joren Zeeman got a yellow card for arguing with an official, setting off a 14-8 run for the Gaels.

“It [wasn’t] a bad time to get a yellow card, but I think it was a statement to his teammates that we need to fight harder,” Willis said.

The call gave the Gaels momentum to take the fourth set 25-16. The Gaels held a close 11-10 lead in the final set, and came out victorious.

Zeeman, who was named OUA player of the year on Wednesday, played some of his best offence of the season. He scored 23 points against the Marauders and 27 against the Mustangs, much higher than his regular-season average of 16 points per game.

“If there were any doubters about whether Joren is as good as some people think he is, I think he proved, without a doubt, that he’s the best player in the OUA,” Willis said. “We wouldn’t have won without the performance that Joren put up ... the other players have an opportunity to be more successful because other teams are so worried about Joren.”

Fourth-year outside Alex Oneid sat out both games with a sprained ankle. He's scheduled for an ankle mobility test early this week to decide if he will dress in the upcoming national championships.

Outside Will Sidgwick, who substituted for Oneid, scored the final two points of the fifth set to win the game.

“Pass for pass, hit for hit, Will is a very good player too. Everybody’s picked up the energy as it got more and more meaningful in the playoffs," Willis said.

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