Men's volleyball wins Forsyth Cup

Gaels end McMaster’s six title streak, claim first OUA banner since 2011-12 

Lucas Kaufman lies on the court as the Gaels storm the court after winning the OUA Final.
Lucas Kaufman lies on the court as the Gaels storm the court after winning the OUA Final.

In his first season as head coach, Gabriel DeGroot never expected an OUA Championship—but that’s exactly what he got.

After toppling the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 3-1 on Saturday afternoon in the OUA semi-final, Queen’s earned a thrilling five-set victory over the reigning OUA champions McMaster Marauders to secure gold on Sunday.

With the win, the Gaels brought the Marauders’ six-year hold on the Forsyth Cup to an end while punching their ticket to the U Sports National Championships next weekend. McMaster’s dynasty is the longest in OUA men’s volleyball history, with Queen’s being the only other team to claim the title in the past 11 years—they won it in 2009-10 and 2011-12. 

“Wow. This is incredible,” DeGroot said, with tears in his eyes, in a post-game interview with The Journal.

 “I don’t know if I pictured [OUA gold] happening this way, in this place, with so many people—and definitely not in my first year,” he added. “But this team is absolutely amazing.”

Standing on the court after being handed his gold medal, DeGroot received a hug from his team’s former Head Coach, Brenda Willis, who retired last season after leading the Gaels for 31 seasons. “You deserve this,” she told the first-year coach, her former assistant. “I’m so proud of you.”

The Gaels indeed deserved the result after finishing their regular season with an OUA East-best 15-3 record. Despite opening the season with a 2-2 record, the Gaels found their footing: they lost just one other game through the remainder of the year, going on an 11-game win streak in the process which included the playoffs. 

“What a band of brothers,” DeGroot said of his team. “They came together right from the beginning of this year and they’ve really believed in everything we’ve laid out in [our] plan for them, and they stuck with it right to the end.”

Thanks to their OUA-leading record, the Gaels’ home court advantage was a boost in their quest for a championship. In Saturday’s semi-final bout, 1,340 fans were in attendance at the ARC, while 1,441 filled in for Sunday’s final.

The Gaels won the first two sets 25-21 and 25-20 against U of T before narrowly dropping the third 24-26. They regained control to win the final set 25-20 and earn a spot in the OUA championships. A berth in the finals also granted them a spot in the impending U Sports National Championships.

After Saturday’s game against Toronto, DeGroot said a berth to nationals was one of the team’s major goals this year. “I think the experience that we got being at nationals last year helped them through this game,” he said. “They really wanted it and they went out and got it.”

With an electric near-sellout crowd on Sunday, the Gaels won the first set 25-19 against the Marauders. In the second, McMaster flipped the script, winning by the same score. 

After narrowly dropping the third set 25-23, the pressure was high for Queen’s heading into the beginning of the fourth. The Gaels came back with relentless force, holding their opponents to only 16 points to win the fourth and force a fifth.

In the final set, McMaster proved they weren’t going down easy, refusing the Gaels’ attempts to extend their lead. But that wasn’t a problem for Queen’s: with a blistering final kill scored by third-year Joel Rudd, the scoreboard read 15-13 and the crowd erupted. 

Until their five-set victory against McMaster on the road this past November, Queen’s hadn’t beat the Marauders since the 2011-12 playoffs. 

“I think [that win] definitely gave us confidence, but this team is playing incredible,” DeGroot said. “They’re just playing amazing volleyball and executing amazing volleyball.” 

Both Queen’s and McMaster made 22 errors throughout the match, but the Gaels far outplayed them offensively, with 78 kills to their 40 and 81 points scored to their 68. 

Adam Bolijkovac led the leaderboard with 22 kills, followed by Rudd with 19 and Zac Hutcheson with 18. Hutcheson also recorded 12 digs and second-year Zane Grossinger had 64 assists in the match.

Bolijkovac, named game MVP, said his past six months on the roster have been a journey. 

“This has always been the end goal, this is what everyone’s coming out every day to prepare for, and it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I never thought […] Home gym, championship […] [I’m] speechless.” 

He said when it came to the fifth set, the Gaels felt confident. 

“I think our team has the advantage, we’ve been playing them all season, we were ready for it,” he said. 

With a trip to nationals secured, the Gaels will look to continue their 11-game win streak in hopes of a U Sports title. Their first game will be next Friday against the tournament hosts, Laval et Rouge Or.

Laval went undefeated this season with a 16-0 record, claiming their 34th RSEQ title. The Rouge et Or have only missed one national championship in the past 22 years.

According to Queen’s Assistant Coach Tom Ellison, who played for the team for five years before coaching this season, the Gaels are ready for next weekend’s challenge at the U Sports Championships.

 “This year I think we’re ready to go to, we’re ready to push for that national championship,” Ellison said. “If we play our game and play the way we’ve been playing, I think we’ll be just fine.” 

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