Men's volleyball seeded sixth at U Sports Championships

Gaels kick off campaign in Laval on Friday night against tournament hosts

The Gaels won their first Forsyth Cup since 2011-12 last weekend, snapping McMaster's streak of six consecutive titles.
The Gaels won their first Forsyth Cup since 2011-12 last weekend, snapping McMaster's streak of six consecutive titles.
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Having secured gold at the OUA Championships, the men’s volleyball team is headed to nationals.
 
The Gaels will travel to Université Laval and play the tournament’s host and conference champions to open the event. Up against the undefeated and third-seeded Laval Rouge et Or, they’ll play their quarterfinal match on Friday evening. 
 
In a phone interview from Laval, Head Coach Gabriel DeGroot told The Journal that his team, still overjoyed after their finals victory, will need to switch into high gear for Friday’s game. 
 
“That’s a great thing, to be going into this tournament feeling positive and loose and energetic,” said DeGroot, who was recently named the OUA Coach of the Year. “But at the same time, [we’re] trying to get the focus away from what happened and towards what we have to do.”
 
Last year, after losing the OUA Final to the McMaster Marauders, Queen’s made the trip to the U Sports National Championships—but they didn’t find much success. The Gaels dropped both of their matches: the first was a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to the Alberta Golden Bears, and the second a 3-0 loss in the consolation semi-final to the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds. 
 
Despite losing their pair of games, DeGroot—then an assistant coach with the team—said his young roster garnered valuable experience playing on a national stage, which will come in handy when they play the tournament hosts this coming weekend. 
 
Seeded third, Laval recently claimed their 34th RSEQ title—their 20th in the past 22 years—and came into the event with a dangerous combination of experience and confidence. They’ve missed one national championship tournament in the past 22 years, winning their last banner in 2013 and owning four in program history.
 
A notable threat on Laval’s roster is the RSEQ’s MVP for five years running: Vincente Ignacio Parraguirre Villalobos.
 
DeGroot called Villalobos a superstar, and with good reason—the fifth-year player scored 40 per cent of the Rouge et Or’s offensive points this season.
 
“We’ve got to find a way to manage him, and to stop that from an [in-] game standpoint,” he said. “But I think it’s easier to try to game-plan for a team that has one superstar than maybe five or six.”
Alongside Villalobos’ MVP status, the Rouge et Or Head Coach, Pascal Clément, was named the RSEQ Coach of the Year after his team lost only four of the 52 sets they played over the course of the regular season. 
 
Beyond their undefeated record, Laval’s dominance has been a constant this year. In their 20 total games during the 2018-19 season, they won in straight-sets 14 times and went to five just three—two coming in the playoffs. 
 
Comparatively, Queen’s has played more volleyball than their opponents, going to five sets nine times but sweeping teams on just six occasions.
 
For DeGroot, Queen’s offensive line—made up of OUA All-Stars Zac Hutcheson, Adam Boljkovac, and Dylan Hunt—has a chance to take its five-set experience and put Laval in hot water.
 
As far as the host’s home-court advantage goes, the Gaels know it’s going to be “a very hostile environment,” DeGroot said. “[But] we feel really good about the team we’re playing and the way we match up against them, so [we’re] just trying to stay really positive.”
 

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