Men’s volleyball preening before playoffs

Queen’s exorcises early-season demons with sweeps of Lions, Lakers

Outside hitter Zac Hutcheson puts one away.

In a measure of revenge, the Gaels sent both the York Lions and Nipissing Lakers packing without so much as a set win to show for their efforts.

Since a pair of bad losses to York (5-8) and Nipissing (8-6) that put Queen’s (11-4) at 0-2 to start the season, the Gaels have been on fire—they’ve only lost twice, both to the OUA East-leading University of Toronto. They’re 9-1 in their past ten.

In a postgame interview with The Journal, Gaels’ Head Coach Gabriel DeGroot attributed the hot streak to some percolating chemistry within the team. “We finally have all the pieces to our lineup back in. The poor start to our season was contributed [to] by some injuries, so now that Zac Hutcheson [is back], that makes a big difference.”

Sunday’s game against the Lakers was a microcosm of Queen’s season—a slow start where Nipissing grabbed three of the first five points, and then the Gaels turned on the afterburners.

Queen’s quickly took momentum with a fantastic pancake dig by setter Zane Grossinger that propelled them to win the point and tie up the set 3–3.

The Gaels then grabbed the next few points convincingly with kills by centre Dax Tompkins—they never gave up the lead. The final score of the set ended up being 25-19 for the Gaels.

Building on the momentum from the previous set, Queen’s came out to a commanding 7-3 lead. Limiting errors and playing to their strengths, the Gaels never appeared to be in danger of giving it up.

And if their lead was comfortable, they didn’t play like it. After a long rally in which Adam Boljkovac dove into the boards to keep the point going, a tip by Queen’s had the ball heading into the chairs of the bench. Putting his body on the line, libero Lukas Kaufman dove into them, doing everything he could to win the point.

Although Nipissing won the point, Kaufman’s effort wasn’t dismissed by the crowd, his teammates, and coaches, who cheered him on as he got up. Queen’s won the set 25-17.

“It was not part of our nature early on, but we have definitely grown into a team that realizes that in order to win big matches, we’re going to have to lay it out for each and every point,” said DeGroot.

“[That play was a] huge statement from our libero […] Even in a tough situation like that, he showed what type of effort he is willing to make for his teammates.”

Finally, in the third set, Queen’s was having fun with the match, even getting fancy with a few points. One point in particular came from Hutcheson, who faked like he was going to smash the ball but instead made a beautiful jump set to Adam Boljkovac, who finished it with a smashing kill. Queen’s took the final set 25-21 to vindicate their sweep at the hands of Nipissing from the beginning of the season.

24 hours earlier, Queen’s also swept the York Lions. The first two sets were lopsided, and the third was anything but—the Gaels only prevailed 33–31. Zane Grossinger was sensational in the win, accumulating 39 assists across the three sets.

Only three games now separate Queen’s from the playoffs. The Gaels are second in the OUA East, and with Toronto a game ahead and with two in hand, it’s likely that’s where they’ll finish.

This sets them up for a quarterfinal matchup against either Windsor or Western, both of whom Queen’s dispatched handily in the regular season.

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