Dry spells prove costly

Seeded sixth in the OUA, Queen’s stumbles in first playoff round

The Gaels suffered through four- and five-game losing streaks this season, but snagged the OUA’s final playoff spot.
The Gaels suffered through four- and five-game losing streaks this season, but snagged the OUA’s final playoff spot.

Battling injuries and long losing streaks, men’s volleyball was unable to recreate last year’s top-four finish and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs.

In a season that saw them consistently struggle to stay in the win column, the Gaels rallied to capture their final three regular season games. They finished the season at 9-11, snagging the sixth and final OUA playoff spot and a first-round matchup with the Waterloo Warriors.

Despite falling to the nationally ninth-ranked Warriors in four sets, the Gaels were impressive in defeat, taking the opening set and coming just shy of extending the match to five.

The end-of-season turnaround was a result of the Gaels getting healthy and starting to find their rhythm offensively.

After coming out on top in three of their first four games, Queen’s floundered in the early part of the season, losing five consecutive matches.

“We struggled early on to find a rhythm with our offence and [with] our inability to keep our middle hitters active,” head coach Brenda Willis told the Journal via email. “These elements are very critical to team success and made it very tough on our outside hitters.”

One additional problem the Gaels faced during the losing streak was the absence of outside hitter Mike Tomlinson, who was out of the lineup until Nov. 22 with a torn ACL. Fellow hitters Stephen Holmes and Tyler Scheerhoorn replaced Tomlinson on the right side of the lineup.

The team benefited from a winter trip to Bulgaria, where rookie Jamie Wright established himself as the Gaels’ primary setter, replacing the graduated Jackson Dakin.

Queen’s came back stronger after the break, and despite another losing skid, the squad began to improve, due in part to their depth.

“I can think of many times and in many situations where a player was able to come off the bench and make a huge difference in a match,” Willis said.

While Queen’s used strong team play to propel them forward, there were several players whose individual campaigns stood out.

Tomlinson returned from injury in November and was named an OUA second-team All-Star. He also led the league in points per game, while his 183 kills sat 10th in the OUA, despite him missing nearly half the season.

Willis said Tomlinson stood out because of his production on the court and for his dedication to rehabbing his injury.

Second-year libero Ivo Dramov built on last year’s OUA All-Rookie campaign, once again establishing himself as an important defensive player for the Gaels and finishing second in the OUA with 201 digs. Wright showed strong play as a rookie, sitting third in the league in assists per game.

Willis said that while the outlook for next season is encouraging, there’s still work to be done in several areas.

“Collectively, our block [and] defence coordination and trust need to be better, if we are to challenge at the top,” she said. “I also want us to take our serving to a new level.”

With all but one player — team captain and fourth-year libero Jacob Glantz — returning next year, it seems likely the Gaels will be able to build on this season going forward.

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