Back-to-back: Forsyth Cup stays in Kingston

Boljkovac leads improbable comeback; Nationals cancelled

The men’s volleyball team is still the best in Ontario.
Rick Zazulak

The men’s volleyball team has done it again, coming back from being down two sets to none to win the OUA Championship over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues.

The Gaels lost both of their regular season matchups with the OUA East’s number one seed, and they were poised to fall again last Saturday until they caught fire and reeled off three straight sets to win the Forsyth Cup.

However, the Gaels won’t have the opportunity to compete for the national crown—after initially moving to play the championships without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic, U SPORTS has now decided to cancel the entire tournament.

This follows the cancellation of the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments in Nova Scotia, and more broadly, the suspension of the NBA, NHL, and NCAA seasons.

Queen’s started slowly against Toronto, and Toronto made them pay for it. The Blues weren’t intimidated by the defending champs—24 of their 50 points in the first two sets came off of kills. 

Moreover, untimely errors in the first two sets made it difficult for Queen’s to get any runs going. The presence of veteran Chris Towe on the U of T team was also felt in the first two sets with many points coming off his spikes or his inclusion in the play. By the end of the second set, you could see the frustration and urgency in the Queen’s players’ eyes.

Queen’s flipped the switch in the third set. Playing to their strengths and staying composed, Queen’s jumped to an early four-point lead partly thanks to a fantastic stretch of serving and attacking by U SPORTS rookie of the year Erik Siksna.

The four-point lead ballooned up to 11 points, and Queen’s won the set 25-14. What was most remarkable about this set was Queen’s substantial showing of serving. In the past, Queen’s has had issues with its service game. Yet, in the third set of this match, they managed to get six aces while limiting their service errors to only two.

The momentum was completely reversed. Queen’s offence roared to life, putting away 11 kills in the fourth set, their most of any set in the game. Setter Zane Grossinger was the catalyst, dishing out eight of his 35 assists in the fourth, which Queen’s won 25-17.

The Gael’s defence was smothering over this stretch—they badgered Toronto into making 12 errors over the course of the third and fourth sets. The production from both sides of the floor helped Queen’s even up the score 2-2, forcing the match to a decisive fifth set.

In the final set, the Gaels stormed out to a 4-1 lead on the power of four kills by Boljkovac on four assists by Grossinger.

U of T clawed back to win the next three points, tying the set up 4-4. The teams stayed close, trading points a service error by Toronto’s Jordan Figeueira made it 10-8 for the Gaels, forcing a Toronto timeout.

Just five points separated the Gaels from the Forsyth repeat, and they didn’t waste any time earning them. Erik Siksna answered a Toronto kill with one of his own, and then Dax Tompkins got two consecutive blocks to make the score 13-9.

The teams committed an error each before Boljkovac won the game with his sixth kill of the set, and the Gaels won 15-10.

“The most resilient group of young men that I’ve worked with,” DeGroot told The Journal. “All season long they have faced different types of adversity and just seem to come back stronger and stronger.”

“Regardless of the score, they seem to just keep battling for each and every point. They also find ways to enjoy each and every moment which has helped them stay in the moment. This team is truly a pleasure to work with.”

Last year, the Gaels beat the McMaster Marauders in the finals to win the Forsyth Cup (after handling Toronto 3-1 in the semis), and they had to get through the Marauders in this year’s iteration of the playoffs as well.

A lot was at stake—not only would the winner move on to the finals, they clinched a berth at nationals, while the loser would have to win the bronze medal game to punch their ticket.

Coming into this game, Queen’s had earned three-set sweeps in eight of their last nine matches. This game was not one of those—it took all five sets for the Gaels to prevail.

More often than not, elongated rallies and skill-based plays would win the point for either side in this game. Errors were hard to come by, as Queen’s limited themselves to only 23, and McMaster committing only slightly more, finishing with 28.

The teams were evenly matched on the court in many senses, but the X-factor was mental toughness—the Gaels’ veteran players were calmer and more composed.

So, even when down 9-7 in the fifth set, you could tell the Queen’s team still had the determination and confidence to come back. Strong plays by both outside hitters Adam Boljkovac and Zac Hutcheson would edge Queen’s to come back and win the deciding set 15-13.

“On the mental side of the game and of our preparation, we feel we are building a stronger and stronger edge on McMaster,” said Coach DeGroot. “Six straight matches against them would be a big next step.”

The Gaels, who were slated to play the Marauders in the U SPORTS quarterfinals, won’t get the chance to make it six in a row until next season. 

It’s a tough way to end the season, especially considering the form Queen’s was in, and especially for fifth-year Zac Hutcheson, but at least the Gaels have an OUA Championship to comfort them.

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