Tough opening game

Gaels take on defending champs at nationals

Outside hitter Becky Billings jumps to spike a ball during the Gaels’ win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees in Sunday’s OUA final.
Outside hitter Becky Billings jumps to spike a ball during the Gaels’ win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees in Sunday’s OUA final.

Women’s volleyball coach Joely Christian-Macfarlane said her team won’t be intimidated when they play the four-time defending national champions this afternoon.

After winning an OUA gold medal last weekend, the seventh-seeded Gaels are in Hamilton for their first-ever CIS national tournament appearance.

They open against the second-seeded University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, who have won four national titles in a row and have competed in 17 of the past 18 tournaments.

“It doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net,” Christian-Macfarlane said. “All roads lead to the same destination.”

Despite being first-timers at nationals, Christian-Macfarlane said her team isn’t expecting an early exit.

“I’m training the girls to go out there and win by playing the best volleyball,” she said. “UBC better look out, because we’re going to step on the floor and do what we need to do.”

The eight-team, single-elimination tournament, hosted by the McMaster Marauders, runs until Sunday. The other teams competing, in order of seeding, are the Alberta Pandas, the Montreal Carabins, the Saint Mary’s Huskies, the McGill Martlets, the Trinity West Spartans and the host Mauraders.

Christian-Macfarlane said she has a good idea what UBC head coach Doug Reimer’s game plan will be — Christian-Macfarlane played CIS volleyball at the University of Manitoba in the 1990s while Reimer coached at the University of Winnipeg.

“He’s always had these really huge teams,” Christian-Macfarlane said. “It’s always been very much about offense and hitting perimeter. Deep perimeters have been his claim to fame.”

Fourth-year outside hitter Natalie Gray said the Gaels will benefit from being seen as newcomers to the national tournament.

“There’s no pressure on us, we’re looked upon as the underdog ... and I think that’s a great place for us to be,” she said. “[The Thunderbirds] haven’t seen us play before and they don’t know what we’re capable of.”

Gray and fellow fourth-year outside hitter Becky Billings will play their last-ever games for Queen’s this weekend. Gray said she’s thrilled to be ending her career on the national stage.

“There aren’t many words to describe how good it feels,” Gray said. “I feel like I’ll be nervous for the first ball.

“But once we get that first point out of the way we’ll be back to Queen’s volleyball and do what we do every day in the gym.”

The Gaels open the tournament against the Thunderbirds today at 3 p.m. All games will be webcast live at ssncanada.ca.

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