Men’s volleyball head to U Sports Championship

Gaels head to nationals in Hamilton over the weekend

The men’s volleyball team is carrying confidence into the U Sports Championships.
The men’s volleyball team is carrying confidence into the U Sports Championships.
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Following a straight-sets win over RMC on Feb. 11, men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis told her team — who, at 6-8, were fighting for a playoff berth — to keep their confidence high and composure steady. 

“If we can stick [to] our game plan and everybody stays in system,” Willis recalled telling her players after their win, “there’s no reason we can’t go all the way and qualify for nationals.”

Just over a month later, her words of encouragement proved true.

After losing out to tournament hosts McMaster in the OUA Championship game last Sunday, the Gaels are set to feature in this coming weekend’s U Sports National Championships in Hamilton.

With their regular season ending on a four-game win streak, Willis said her team entered the playoffs carrying a fair bit of confidence.

In the quarterfinal away from home, Queen’s blew past the Western Mustangs with a 3-1 win.

Despite losing to Western in a five-set match earlier in the year, Willis said her team knew they were capable of “making some noise” in the first round of the playoffs. She noted two of the Gaels’ key starters, libero Lukas Kaufman and setter Zane Grossinger, were under the weather in their earlier loss to the Mustangs.

“We were confident that with healthy bodies, we could go into Western and make some noise,” Willis said. She added the Mustangs “pushed very hard and almost took us to five,” which made closing the game early critical.

“I think it would’ve been much tougher to win playing a fifth set in their gym.”

The Gaels carried their momentum over to their semi-final matchup versus the Ryerson Rams on March 9. Even though they beat them just 3-0 a few weeks earlier on Feb. 17, Willis told her team that in the postseason, anything can happen.

“There was confidence in the team,” she said, alluding to the Gaels’ pre-game mentality having recently beat the Rams at home on Seniors Weekend. “I knew Ryerson wouldn’t roll over like they did in front of our hostile alumni crowd.”

When Queen’s went up 2-0 in the semi-finals, excitement began to creep in.

“There was this almost, like, ‘Oh my goodness, we might win this’ mindset,” Willis said.

After the team dropped the next two sets, the Gaels’ optimism appeared premature.

“That’s the problem with this sport,” Willis, who is set to retire at season’s end, explained. “When you’re up 2-0, the opponent’s back is to the wall and they have to play with urgency or they’re done, whereas you’re comfortable.”

With a newfound sense of urgency, the Gaels fought for a chance to play in the OUA final. After winning 15-9 in the final set, the Gaels punched their ticket to the National Championships in the process.

“[Ryerson] was a huge game for us because it booked our ticket to nationals, and that was the team goal right from the beginning,” Willis said.

Despite suffering a straight-sets loss to McMaster in the OUA Finals on March 10, Willis said her team “came out prepared and played quite well.”

“Obviously you want to challenge for a banner and put a banner up in your gym, but we knew [McMaster] was strong and it was in their house,” she said.

Sitting at 6-8 and with just four games left in their season, the Gaels found themselves lucky to make the playoffs. Now, after winning six of their last seven games, they find themselves with a chance to play for a national title.

“It’s an awesome experience,” Willis said of the postseason. “We’ve battled to the last point and I’m very proud of our team.”

“I think it speaks super well to the potential of the roster for the future.”

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