Women's volleyball leads power rankings

Sports Editors Gilbert Coyle and Benjamin Deans determine which winter varsity teams impressed this season

The women’s volleyball team won their first-ever Ontario championship after beating the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the OUA final.
The women’s volleyball team won their first-ever Ontario championship after beating the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the OUA final.
All-Canadian Joren Zeeman goes up for a spike.
All-Canadian Joren Zeeman goes up for a spike.
The women’s hockey team disappointed with a first-round playoff loss.
The women’s hockey team disappointed with a first-round playoff loss.

1. Women’s volleyball

The women’s volleyball team defied all expectations to win its first-ever Ontario championship this season.

After the Ottawa Gee-Gees ended the Gaels’ playoff hopes last season in the 2010-11 OUA quarter-finals, the Gaels lost OUA East All-Stars Katie Matthews and Lorna Button and brought in 12 rookies. Going into the season, the Journal predicted that the Gaels wouldn’t make the playoffs.

The Gaels opened their regular season with a loss to the Gee-Gees, but won three straight to go 3-1. The team was 6-3 by Christmas break.

The Gaels met the Gee-Gees a second time at the ARC on Jan. 27. Queen’s fell behind 2-1, but came back to win 3-2. Head coach Joely Christian-Macfarlane said the win over Ottawa was when she realized her team was a serious OUA championship contender.

The team secured a home playoff game after finishing the regular season at third in the OUA with a 13-5 record. The Gaels won two playoff games to set up an OUA final against the Gee-Gees in Ottawa, which they won 3-1 to secure Queen’s first-ever women’s volleyball OUA championship.

Although the Gaels lost two straight games at nationals — including a first-round loss to the national-champion University of British Columbia Thunderbirds — they still achieved incredible results this year.

Next year, the team loses fourth-year OUA All-Stars Natalie Gray and Becky Billings, but they’ve already proven their ability to overcome the loss of key veterans.

— Benjamin Deans

2. Men’s volleyball

With eight veteran players and a national tournament in Kingston, the men’s volleyball team was poised to make history this season. They wound up winning a sixth OUA championship and achieving a fourth-place finish at nationals, but missed out on their long-term goal — a Canadian Interuniversity Sport medal.

With fifth-years Dan Rosenbaum and Bryan Fautley sitting out with chronic injuries, the Gaels started the season slowly, going 5-4 in their first nine games. But they turned it around after the holiday break, finishing the regular season with a five-game straight-set winning streak that included a win over the first-place Western Mustangs. They ended the regular season third in the OUA with a 12-6 record.

The Gaels won their first two playoff games and beat the Mustangs again in the final to win an OUA championship and secure the fifth seed for the eight-team CIS tournament at the ARC earlier this month.

In the quarter-final, the Gaels upset the fourth-place Alberta Golden Bears, securing Queen’s first-ever trip to the final four. But the Gaels lost their last two last games to finish fourth at the CIS tournament.

The final two losses capped off an era for the Gaels. After contending for a national championship this season, head coach Brenda Willis’ goal is to make the OUA playoffs next season — the Gaels only return three players from their starting lineup.

— Benjamin Deans

3. Women’s basketball

The women’s basketball team had contrasting storylines this season. Although fifth-year guard Brittany Moore established herself as one of Queen’s best-ever players by climbing to second-place in the OUA all-time scoring chart, the team failed to win a playoff game for the fifth straight season.

The Gaels improved on last season’s 7-15 record by finishing 12-10, good for fourth place in the OUA East. But they lost a home-court first-round game to the fifth-place Ryerson Rams, a team they beat twice in the regular season.

Moore capped off a brilliant career by averaging 17.2 points per game to finish with 1,652 career points. She scored over 10 points in all but two games, shot over 40 per cent and earned OUA first-team all-star status for the fourth time in her career.

But the Gaels will struggle to replace her scoring — nobody else averaged more than 10 points per game this season.

Rookie wing Jenny Wright looks like a future star, having earned a place on the OUA all-rookie team after leading all rookies with 106 rebounds, and averaging 6.9 points per game. Head coach Dave Wilson said Wright could be an All-Canadian later in her career.

Although the Gaels need to replace Moore’s scoring prowess next season, Wilson said his team will improve. This season, they won 20 games (including exhibition games) for the first time since 2003, and Wilson expects more victories in 2012-13.

— Gilbert Coyle

4. Men’s hockey

The men’s hockey team finished eighth-place and made a first-round playoff exit because they couldn’t overcome a season-long injury bug.

At one point, nine players were sidelined. Forwards Payton Liske, Joey Derochie, Brock Ouellet, Jordan Mirwaldt and defenceman Robert Stellick missed large parts of the season, while backup goalie Steele de Fazio quit the team in November for personal reasons.

The Gaels capped off a disastrous first half of the season with a 10-1 loss to the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes in November. They opened 2012 with six wins in nine games to get back into the playoff race, but slumped late in the season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

The Gaels will lose six players this summer — including veteran captain Jon Lawrance — but they have a strong returning group.

Rookie forwards Corey Bureau and Tyler Moore and second-year winger Kelly Jackson — who combined for 30 goals this season — are all back. Defencemen Stellick, Stephane Chabot and Patrick McEachen will be returning, while Riley Whitlock — OUA East Goaltender of the Year and a CIS All-Canadian — is around for one more year.

Head coach Brett Gibson signed a five-year contract extension on March 15, but he still hasn’t won a playoff series. It needs to happen next season.

— Gilbert Coyle

5. Women’s hockey

One year removed from a memorable playoff run that ended with an Ontario title and a national bronze medal, the women’s hockey team failed to impress in 2011-12.

After a promising start, the Gaels suffered a two-month collapse that ended in a first-round playoff loss.

The Gaels went 10-3-2 during the first half of the season. But the team lost seven of its final 11 regular-season games, including a 7-0 home loss to the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.

Even though they had first-round home-ice advantage in the playoffs, they fell in three games to the York Lions, dropping both games at the Memorial Centre.

Despite a poor season, the team boasted plenty of individual success — forward Morgan McHaffie recorded a league-best 38 points and was named OUA Player of the Year, forward Brittany McHaffie had 10 goals and 15 assists, defender Katie Duncan was an OUA second-team all-star and rookie winger Taryn Pilon scored 21 points to make the OUA all-rookie team.

Head coach Matt Holmberg didn’t name a starting goalie for the second straight season, splitting time between Karissa Savage and Mel Dodd-Moher. Even though Savage is undecided about returning, Dodd-Moher will be back next season.

With the exception of Savage, every skater is returning. With a more experienced team, the women’s hockey team has potential to make the OUA final next season.

— Gilbert Coyle

6. Men’s basketball

The men’s basketball team can’t be faulted for its efforts, but it simply wasn’t good enough to compete in the OUA East. With a new coach and an inexperienced roster, the Gaels went 2-20, only beating the winless Royal Military College Paladins late in the season.

But head coach Stephan Barrie said his team improved throughout the season and will be more competitive next year. His coaching staff is aggressively recruiting top high school talent and plans to overhaul the roster.

The current squad can take some positives from the season. Second-year guard and co-captain Ryan Golden played a team-high 31 minutes per game and will be the team’s leader next season.

Forward Mackenzie Simpson, a third-year transfer student from St. Lawrence College, led the Gaels in scoring with 12.7 points per game, while second-year forward Nikola Misljencevic averaged 11.4 points per game and shot 42 per cent from three-point land this season.

If 6’7 rookie centre John Lenz can adjust to the physical nature of the OUA, the Gaels should rebound better than they did this season.

The team’s biggest weakness this season was scoring. Barrie said that although his team executed the offence well, they couldn’t shoot the ball.

But he plans to bring in some recruits who can sink shots. If a strong rookie class can contribute immediately, the Gaels will be a playoff contender.

— Gilbert Coyle

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