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Veteran Gaels in the hunt for OUA gold

Outside hitter Markus Trence (2) recorded 55 kills and 34 digs in 32 sets played last year.
Outside hitter Markus Trence (2) recorded 55 kills and 34 digs in 32 sets played last year.

Brenda Willis and the men’s volleyball team have lofty ambitions this season.

After finishing in sixth place last season, the Gaels fell in four sets to the Waterloo Warriors in the opening round of the OUA playoffs. This year, the team is aiming for a vast improvement.

“Our goal is to qualify for the CIS championships,” said Willis, who’s entering her 28th season as Queen’s head coach.

If the team reaches the national tournament, it’ll be their best result since the 2011-12 season, when they captured the OUA title and finished fourth while hosting the CIS tournament.

To occupy one of the province’s top spots — alongside upper-echelon programs such as the McMaster Marauders or York Lions — the men will likely need at least 15 wins in 20 games, a number Willis said is obtainable.

The Gaels lost minimal players over the off-season, and hope to begin where they left off at the end of last year, when they won three straight games to close the regular season.

“I don’t think we’ve dropped in calibre,” Willis said. “We’re one of the bigger, stronger teams in the OUA. Our physicality should be the difference.”

Key returning players include outside hitter Mike Tomlinson and middle blockers Scott Brunet and Tyler Scheerhoorn.

Tomlinson was a second-team OUA All-Star last season, registering the second-most kills per set in the league. He’s recovered from a torn ACL that kept him out of the first seven games in 2013.

Along with these three fourth-year returnees, Willis has been impressed by the improvement of another outside hitter.

“The guy who has stepped up the most is [third-year] Marcus Trence,” she said. “We’re pretty happy with him right now.”

Middle blocker Darren Edwards and libero Jacob Glantz have both graduated. Willis brought in a quartet of rookies, some of whom found floor time during the pre-season.

Outside hitter Ben Harper was named MVP of the Gaels’ exhibition clash with the Montreal Carabins on Oct. 18, while setter Joraver Sangha saw playing time against Montreal and the Toronto Varsity Blues in pre-season tournaments.

Queen’s will be looking to build on their momentum from near the end of last season. Having lost to Toronto and the Ryerson Rams last November, they rebounded in February to beat both squads in straight sets, punching their ticket to the post-season.

The pair of wins showed improvement and the ability to remain poised and finish off tough opponents.

The Gaels open their regular season tonight with a game against the Windsor Lancers, before playing the Western Mustangs tomorrow.

The Gaels met the Lancers twice last season, winning both games 3-2.

“Windsor will try to get a lot of balls to the middle,” Willis said. “We need to stop their middle attack.”

Western beat the Gaels twice in 2013-14, but have since lost a number of veteran players.

“Everyone thought Western would be rebuilding, but they upset McMaster last weekend,” Willis said.

“We’ll see what happens,” she added. “[These are] two real key games for us.”

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