Men’s volleyball wins quarterfinal over Guelph in five-set thriller

Gaels to host OUA Final Four next weekend

Fourth-year Zac Hutcheson flies towards the ball in front of a packed home crowd.
Fourth-year Zac Hutcheson flies towards spiking the ball in front of a packed home crowd.

The only thing separating the ball from the court—and preserving the vitality of the men’s volleyball team’s season—was Zac Hutcheson’s outstretched palm. Getting to his feet, Hutcheson watched his teammates win the season-saving point that allowed him, two points later, to crunch the game-winning kill into the ground.

“I need a day or night to decompress from this one,” Head Coach Gabriel DeGroot told The Journal after Saturday’s five-set win against the Guelph Gryphons.

The first 40 minutes of Saturday’s OUA quarterfinal between the OUA East-leading Gaels (15-3) and Guelph Gryphons (8-9) looked like a foregone conclusion. Cruising through the first two sets 25-18 and 25-14, the hundreds of fans packed into the ARC looked to be getting a straight-set Queen’s victory.

“We had a game plan set out that we knew what was going to work,” DeGroot said of the Gaels’ success in the first two sets. “The fact of the matter is that they had a great coaching staff and they made amazing adjustments.”

In a back-and-forth third set, Queen’s led by as many as four, but slipped as the set progressed. Up 16-13, Guelph went on a 12-6 run to win their first set of the match.

“We maybe got a little cocky in the third set and that’s where things started to drop off,” second-year Zane Grossinger said.

The fourth set, defined by 10 errors on Queen’s part, saw Guelph run away with the frame 25-21, sending the match into a first-to-15 deciding set. It was the eighth time the Gaels had gone to a fifth set this season, having gone 5-2 in their previous five-setters.

“When a team like that gets momentum, they’re gonna run with it,” DeGroot said. “Their guys got hot and started swinging really well, seeing our hands really well.”

In the fifth, both teams failed to string together more than three straight points at any time in the match. Trading jabs late into the set, Queen’s led 14-12 with two chances to close the game out. But after a service error and attack error, the Gryphons had the Gaels tied at 14.

Over the next eight points, Queen’s had four more match points, faltering each time at the hands of two Guelph kills and two of their own service errors. At 19-19, Guelph fed off Queen’s errors to earn three separate match-point opportunities of their own. With his team’s season on the line, DeGroot called timeouts at both match points.

“[I told them to] just stay aggressive. We missed way too many serves in that fifth set, but that’s our style,” DeGroot said. “We’re going to serve hard.”

Off two of their own blocks and one Guelph error, the Gaels tied it up at 21-21. From there, Hutcheson put home two kills to close the dramatic win.

“To be honest, I was just trying to be in the moment [and] enjoy the moment,” DeGroot said of how he felt in the final set.

Meanwhile, Grossinger was just happy the game was over.

“I’m exhausted. Volleyball players don’t do much cardio so it was a tough one,” Grossinger said. The 2017-18 OUA Rookie of the Year added the team’s cohesiveness kept them plugging through the final set despite making seven service errors—many of which came at match point opportunities.

“We have a good team dynamic and at the end of the day, we play for the guy beside us and not the individual,” he said. “We stuck together and that’s why we won that set.”

With the win, the Gaels are slated to host the OUA Final Four next weekend, which will have the University of Toronto, McMaster, and Windsor vying for a spot in the U Sports Championships. Queen’s has yet to be assigned an opponent, however they’ve defeated both U of T and McMaster this season. Queen’s hasn’t won an OUA Championship since 2011-12.

After Saturday’s game, which saw more than 500 fans come out, the Gaels will be looking for more home-crowd support to continue their nine-game winning streak.

“If our fans come out like that again, I don’t think any team is beating us,” Grossinger said.

“If we play our game to the best of our abilities, it’s going to take a lot to get us off this run we’re on.”

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