Men’s volleyball adapting to new role as a league leader

Gaels looking to build off last season’s surprise run to U Sports Championships

Zane Grossinger was named last year’s OUA Rookie of the Year
Zane Grossinger was named last year’s OUA Rookie of the Year
Journal File Photo

Heading into the 2018-19 season, first-year men’s volleyball head coach Gabriel DeGroot is ready to steer the ship.

DeGroot’s no stranger to Queen’s volleyball. He joined the team as an assistant coach in 2010 after an outstanding OUA career as a player with Guelph, earning OUA All-Star selections in two consecutive seasons. Serving under the leadership of longtime Gaels head coach Brenda Willis, DeGroot helped Queen’s to the playoffs each year since his arrival.

When Willis retired after last spring’s trip to the U Sports National Championships, the search for her successor began. Eventually, Queen’s found their ideal candidate right under their nose, promoting DeGroot to take the helm of the program.

The Gaels lost two key players to graduation this year: Markus Trence, an OUA All-Star and league-leader in kills last season, and veteran Jack Peckham. However, DeGroot plans on filling in the gaps with a new but experienced young core.

In a phone interview with The Journal, DeGroot said the graduate’s successors are an exciting prospect.

“[Our sophomores] got a year of experience under their belts,” DeGroot said of the team’s run at nationals last season. He added he doesn’t anticipate any fall-off from last year despite the youthfulness of the team.

The Gaels’ youth has already shown promise, with much of their 2017-18 squad being driven by second-years Mitchell Neuert and Julian Krygel. Perhaps the most notable performance last year came from setter Zane Grossinger, who averaged 9.72 assists per set, earning him OUA East Rookie of the Year honours and a spot on the All-Canadian Rookie team.

“He’s the key to our offence,” DeGroot said of Grossinger. “He’s an undersized player at our level, but it’s the intangibles that make him a difference maker … his experience is in winning big matches under pressure.”

Leadership is going to flow from the team’s two elder statesmen, fourth-year outside hitter Zac Hutcheson and fifth-year middle blocker Dylan Hunt. A crop of junior players will supplement their efforts on the floor

Given DeGroot’s faith in his new team’s core group and the Gaels’ consistency in reaching the OUA playoffs—they’ve done so every year since they missed the postseason in 2003-04—DeGroot said this season will be a grind.

“Every match is a battle. I don’t think anything is given … [but we’ve] definitely set some lofty goals, and those goals are to be in the OUA Championship match and then hopefully a berth in the national championships.”

The road to the OUA Championship runs through the McMaster Marauders. The Marauders have had the Gaels’ number for years, beating them decisively in every meeting they’ve had since 2010. They’ve also beat Queen’s multiple times in the playoffs over that stretch, including last year’s OUA Final.

Still, DeGroot isn’t losing any sleep over the Marauders.

“I don’t really believe in rivalries … every match is its own kind of rivalry,” he said. “You just battle every night.”

The Gaels’ season starts next weekend when they host the Windsor Lancers on Saturday and the Western Mustangs on Sunday.

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