Thursday, January 24, 2008

Campus Corner: A jam-packed weekend for volleyball

Apologies for the absence: been a bit of a crazy week with regards to classes and the paper, so I haven't had a lot of time to post. That should hopefully be remedied over the next little while. Anyways, it's going to be a pretty crazy weekend for Queen's athletics: all three of the major winter sports (volleyball, basketball and hockey) are playing some home games, so I figured I'd put something up here about each of them. Check today's Journal for further info: I've got a preview piece on the weekend in general. This post will focus on the volleyball teams: expect ones later today on basketball and hockey.

To start things off, there's the men's volleyball team. These guys are probably Queen's best shot for an Ontario or national title this fall: they're defending OUA champions, and have proved that they can contend with the likes of McMaster (15-0) and Guelph (12-3), taking each team to five sets in their prior matches on hostile turf. Queen's is also the only Ontario team in the most recent CIS top ten rankings besides No.4 Mac, coming in at No.9. As Coach Willis and the players have made clear, the team got off to a slower than expected start and only seemed to get it together towards the end of their fall schedule. However, their tough schedule of tournament play over the break (9 matches in 11 days) seemed to help, and they emphatically returned to solid form with a five-set win over rivals Western, who had beaten them in the fall.

The men picked up another win on the road against Ryerson last weekend, which they graciously let me tag along for. Ryerson's a pretty good team (7-7) so far, and their insanely small gym definitely makes things tougher, but it would have been nicer for the Gaels to pull out the victory in more dominating style (something the players agreed on after the match). A win is a win though, and it leaves them in good shape coming into this weekend's home games against 7-8 York and 4-11 U of T. The Gaels really need to take advantage of these home games against weaker opponents and come out with full points: Western and Waterloo are both hot on their heels in the standings, and they'd probably much prefer to come out of the regular season with the three seed and a first-round date with York or Ryerson instead of the Mustangs or the Warriors. However, they've made a habit of letting weak opponents hang around for far too long (they've played eight five-set matches so far, more than anyone else in the OUA), so anything could happen this weekend. I'm not covering the men's games, but I'll definitely be watching with interest.

The women's team is also in an interesting spot. Their 4-9 record is far from impressive, but it's good enough to tie them for fourth in the OUA East. They're also in a tight battle for the fourth and final playoff seed with 4-9 Lakehead and 4-10 Ryerson, so their win over Ryerson last weekend could be key. In that win, they really should have put the Rams away in the third set, but things got a little sloppy, Ryerson woke up, and it was far closer than it needed to be. This is clearly a transitory year for the program, with a new head coach (Joely Christian), a scarcity of fourth-year players (backup setter Jenna Willis is the only one) and three rookies in prominent roles (Elyssa Heller, Colleen Ogilvie, and Lorna Button all see regular playing time). However, making the playoffs is a huge momentum-boost for a team, even if they bow out in the first round: just ask Toronto Maple Leaf or New York Islander fans about the psychological difference gaining the last seed makes. It may be tough for the women to get any points from this weekend against 13-2 Toronto and 8-5 York, but a strong showing would prepare them for a difficult road trip to face Laurier and Waterloo next weekend.

A couple of notes common to both teams: first, the basketball teams' home games against Carleton on Friday means that volleyball's been shifted to Saturday night (against York) and Sunday afternoon (against Toronto). The problem is, this leaves both sets of Gaels with less than 24 hours rest against fully rested Varsity Blues teams (who play RMC Saturday afternoon). There's not much that can be done with the schedule, due to Queen's only really having one gym (Bartlett) capable of hosting varsity games. However, the real reason this happened was all the teams were on the road last weekend due to BEWIC Sports Days taking over the gyms. I'm all in favour of intramurals, but it doesn't make sense to me to jeopardize varsity results based on them: would it not have been possible to schedule it so intramurals used all three gyms during the day, but only Ross and Bews around the times of the varsity games? That way, either basketball or volleyball could have hosted the normal Friday/Saturday matchup last weekend and the other sport could have done so this weekend. Of course, I must admit to being partially self-interested here: it would have helped our paper out significantly to not have to scramble for supplied photos last weekend when all the teams were away. Both volleyball coaches told me the quick turnaround was an issue though, so I think there is something here.

Second, this year has been an amazing rookie crop for both teams. The women have brought in Heller, Button, and Ogilvie, all of whom are making tremendous contributions. In fact, all are in the top four on the team in kills and kills per game (with second-year player Louise Hamill). Heller and Ogilvie are also 1-2 in points, and Heller leads the team in points per game. Ogilvie in particular had an impressive game last weekend, recording 15 kills (the most I've ever seen from a middle hitter) and three service aces: she was named our Athlete of the Week for her performance. The men's team has also had a great recruiting crop, bringing in six new players, of whom only Will Bulmer has yet to make an impact (due to injury). Most of them haven't received as much playing time as the women's rookies, due to a strong veteran presence on the men's team, but they've all chipped in at key moments. Joren Zeeman and Niko Rukavina are competing for a starting spot, and both have great upsides. Zeeman hits the ball tremendously hard, and has proven to be a great right-side power hitter with a solid serve. He's eight in the OUA in points per game and ninth in kills per game. He's also third on the team in overall kills, behind only veterans Jeff DeMeza (one of the OUA's best hitters) and Sam Pedlow. Rukavina's seen less court time, but has proven to be a good left-side hitter. He's less overpowering than Zeeman or DeMeza, but he picks his spots well, and is also great defensively. Other rookies have also shone in limited roles: Michael Amoroso's proven to be a capable middle hitter (which will come in handy once fifth-year veterans Chris Vandyk and Nick Gralewicz graduate this year), Dan Rosenbaum has done very well in his role as a backup setter (and proven that this team can still be strong once All-Canadian setter Devon Miller leaves after this year), and Bryan Fautley has shone when called upon, as he did against RMC a couple weeks ago when he led the team with 14 kills. This may be the men's best year to make a run at the nationals, with veterans like Miller, Vandyk and Gralewicz leaving for sure and others like DeMeza possibly moving on, and the strong performances shown by their rookies so far indicating that they can help out down the stretch. However, even if this year doesn't work out, the future is still bright.

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