Ontario champs

Women’s volleyball beats Ottawa to clinch first-ever title

The women's volleyball team celebrates after beating the Ottawa Gee-Gees 3-1 in the OUA final on Sunday.
The women's volleyball team celebrates after beating the Ottawa Gee-Gees 3-1 in the OUA final on Sunday.
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With her team only one point away from victory during the fifth set of an OUA semifinal last Saturday, women’s volleyball captain Becky Billings called her teammates in for a huddle.

Billings had just watched them blow a two-set lead to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. She said she brought the players together to make sure they wouldn’t lose focus again.

“On game point, everyone was too excited,” she said. “I told them to stop cheering and finish off the game.”

The Gaels earned the point to beat the Varsity Blues 3-2 and advance to the OUA final. The next day, they defeated the Ottawa Gee-Gees 3-1 to win their first-ever provincial title and secure a berth at the national tournament.

“No one expected us to be contenders,” Billings said. “But this isn’t a fluke ... we’ve acted like champions all year.”

Before the season, head coach Joely Christian-Macfarlane said the goal was simply for her team to compete every night. The Gaels finished third in the OUA with a 13-5 record and won three straight playoff games to clinch the provincial title.

The Gaels had played the Gee-Gees twice before, losing the regular season opener in Ottawa on Oct. 27 before beating them 3-2 at the ARC on Jan. 27. Even though the gold medal game was in Ottawa, Billings said she wasn’t nervous.

“It was their home gym, all the pressure was on them.”

Fourth-year outside hitter Natalie Gray — recipient of the CIS 2011-12 Thérèse Quigley Award for volleyball, academics and community service — dominated the OUA final four weekend, recording 28 points against the Varsity Blues and 19 more against the Gee-Gees. Christian-Macfarlane said Gray and Billings have been the team’s most important figures all season.

“It’s hard to be the graduating players, especially when there are only two of you,” Christian-Macfarlane said. “But they’ve led the team on and off the court.”

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