Winter teams eye post-season dreams

Basketball squads search for elusive taste of playoff glory, while volleyball tries to get back to the top

Women’s basketball will open the playoffs at home on Feb. 20, against either Ryerson, Laurentian or York.
Women’s basketball will open the playoffs at home on Feb. 20, against either Ryerson, Laurentian or York.
Men’s basketball will face Laurentian next Wednesday.
Men’s basketball will face Laurentian next Wednesday.
Men’s volleyball will begin their OUA title defence at home against York on Saturday night.
Men’s volleyball will begin their OUA title defence at home against York on Saturday night.
Women’s volleyball is set to duel Toronto in the first round on Saturday.
Women’s volleyball is set to duel Toronto in the first round on Saturday.

Men's Basketball

The men’s basketball team finished the regular season with their first playoff berth in three years — but without their leading scorer.

Third-year forward Greg Faulkner averaged 19.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game before suffering a concussion on Jan. 19 against the Carleton Ravens, his former team.

The Gaels struggled in his absence, closing out a 10-10 regular season with just one win in their last six games.

At fifth in the OUA East, Queen’s will play the Laurentian Voyageurs (10-8) on the road in their first-round playoff game on Feb. 20.

While Faulkner’s return is doubtful, third-year guard Ryan Golden is set to come back in time for the post-season.

“If we don’t have Greg, we’ve still got to do what we try to do every other game,” Golden said. “We have to execute what we do well, which is pushing the ball, playing tough defence and running our sets hard.”

Though a variety of injuries have limited Golden to just five games this season, he was instrumental in his most recent contest — the Gaels’ 77-76 win over the Toronto Varsity Blues on Jan. 26, where he scored 16 points and hauled in five rebounds.

“It’s been a little weird that I haven’t been a part of everything that’s happened so far,” Golden said. “But in terms of having a playoff game to look forward to, and the first one of my career at Queen’s, it’s really exciting.”

With Faulkner out of the lineup, none of the Gaels have any OUA playoff experience, but the same can’t be said of their head coach.

As a player, Stephan Barrie was on the Western Mustangs’ 1999 OUA championship team and later coached Western’s women’s team in 11 playoff games during his five-year tenure.

“From a coaching standpoint, you don’t really get excited — you get more focused,” said Barrie, who’s in his second season at Queen’s.

As the only team in the OUA without a travelling partner, the Gaels wrapped up their regular season last weekend — a week before any other team.

Laurentian will play their final regular season game tomorrow night against the York Lions. The Voyageurs’ only home losses have come to first-place Carleton and the second-place Ottawa Gee-Gees.

They topped the Gaels 95-86 in Sudbury last Friday.

Whether we’re on the road or at home, it’s really about how we play,” Barrie said. “So that’s more what we’ll be focused on … than where the game is being played.”

- Peter Reimer

Women's Basketball

The Gaels were beset by a litany of injuries all season long, but they’re in prime position to reclaim post-season success.

The team reached the nadir of their injury plague on Jan. 19, their first meeting with the powerful Carleton Ravens.

Head coach Dave Wilson was forced to play only one starter as the Gaels lost 64-38, the second of six straight late-season defeats.

Third-year guard Liz Boag led the Gaels in scoring, but missed four games mid-season due to injury. She said that type of adversity has hindered this year’s team.

“We were definitely not expecting to have the record we do now,” Boag said. “We had higher expectations.”

Currently, the Gaels are fourth in the OUA East with a record of 7-13 — a nearly identical record to 2010-11, when Queen’s finished 7-14-1 and lost four players to season-ending injuries.

“I thought with what had happened to us two years ago with the rash of injuries that I would never see a set like that in all my coaching days,” Wilson said. “The [injuries] we had this year weren’t technically as bad, but the amount of time lost where players [weren’t] able to play was horrendous.”

Starting wing Gemma Bullard will miss this year’s post-season, after sitting out all of 2011-12. She’s scheduled for surgery on her right knee to repair a torn cartilage.

The Gaels’ first-round playoff opponent has been narrowed down to three teams: the Ryerson Rams (6-12), the Laurentian Lady Vees (5-13) or the York Lions (4-14).

The outcomes of their final regular season games next weekend could alter the Gaels’ current standing, but Wilson said all three teams are beatable.

The coach believes confidence will be central to advancing past the first round of the playoffs — a feat the Gaels haven’t achieved since 2007.

“We’ve had a tough time getting them to understand that they are very talented,” Wilson said. “They want to find external validation for that, and I would rather they found internal validation . . . for us to go deeper in the playoffs.”

- Jerry Zheng

Men's volleyball

The defending OUA champions reloaded their goals early this season, as young talent and a single returning starter exceeded expectations.

The team, consisting of 11 players with less than two years of OUA experience, was branded as a rebuilding squad early in the year.

But losing nearly their entire starting lineup, minus their setter, hasn’t stopped them from making waves in the OUA.

The Gaels finished the regular season with a record of 11-7, good enough for fourth place in the league.

The young team’s goal at the season’s outset was to make the playoffs, but after a tight loss on Oct. 26 to the powerhouse McMaster Marauders, they opted to strive for more.

“It was after the first weekend when we played McMaster, who we knew was going to be a force this year,” fifth-year setter Jackson Dakin said. “We looked across the net and said ‘we can beat this team — we can play at this level.’”

Dakin, the lone returnee from last year’s championship roster, finished eighth in the OUA in assists this season — but his most important contributions have been intangible.

“My goal was to really prepare the next group of leaders on the team,” Dakin said, “and I didn’t have to do much.”

The team displayed progress in their efforts throughout the season. They captured sets in rematches with McMaster and the CIS-ranked Waterloo Warriors.

Outside hitters Mike Tomlinson and Philippe Goyer both had breakout seasons, finishing fifth and eighth in the OUA in points per set, respectively.

“We had lots of people step up and show that they’re going to be high-caliber OUA players and CIS players and are perfectly capable of being the next generation of Queen’s volleyball powerhouses,” Dakin said. “I foresee great things in the future — I see a couple OUA gold medals certainly in the next group of guys coming up.”

The Gaels have locked up home court advantage for the first-round of the playoffs, set to host the fifth-seeded York Lions on Saturday.

The team has bested York twice this season so far, but isn’t paying attention to past results as they prepare for their matchup.

“We have one team in our universe right now and it’s York,” head coach Brenda Willis said. “We’ve pretty much put the kibosh on any discussion about anybody other than York for this entire week, because it’s extremely dangerous to look ahead.”

If the Gaels win this weekend, they’ll be through to the OUA semifinals.

“When you get to the Final Four, anything can happen,” Willis said.

“Going forward, every match is a win or die situation and hopefully we’ll respond the way I think we’re capable of.”

- Sean Liebich

Women's Volleyball

To make a deep run in the playoffs, the Gaels have a long road ahead of them.

While repeating OUA gold will be difficult, the Gaels know what they need to be successful. Their fourth-place seeding pits them against the fifth-place Toronto Varsity Blues, who swept Queen’s 3-0 last weekend in Toronto.

In single-elimination playoffs, knowing the opponents’ strengths and weaknesses is considered a must. Right side hitter Kelsey Bishop said blocking Toronto’s sharp cross court hitting will be key for Queen’s in the quarterfinals.

“We’re going to have to adjust our blocking scheme [against Toronto],” Bishop said. “If we work on blocking those sharp cross shots, we’ll be able to shut them down on offense.”

Queen’s has been effective on both offense and defence when they’ve kept their composure and intensity.

Bishop said the Gaels need to make sure other teams don’t get too comfortable, by maintaining an aggressive playing style.

“In the long run, continuing to play aggressive and not pulling back will help us out,” she said. “That may be where we are falling behind — when are a little anxious to make errors.”

Head coach Joely Christian-Macfarlane said Queen’s offensive success lies in the hands of their outside hitters — Bishop, Colleen Ogilvie and Brett Hagarty.

Setter Anna Pedjase, who finished the season with the fifth-most assists in the league, will be vital in making sure the hitters attack from advantageous positions.

“The type of ball that we play with — if you’re serving tough, it’s a [difficult] ball to run a perfect offense on. You have to rely on a lot of your outside hitters to score points,” Christian-Macfarlane said. “So if they’re not scoring for you, it’s hard to win.”

If the Gaels advance, they could see any one of the OUA’s top three teams in the semifinals: the York Lions, Ottawa Gee-Gees or Ryerson Rams.

With a combined record of 33-3, York and Ottawa present an especially tough challenge for the Gaels’ championship aspirations.

The Gee-Gees swept Queen’s when they met on Jan. 27, while it took the Lions five tight sets to win on Feb. 2.

“We have work to do — we have to be prepared to dig a little deeper to find ways to pull off wins.”

- Lauri Kytömaa

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