Friday, February 08, 2008

Campus Corner: Men's volleyball wins in straight sets

Well, that was a surprise and a half: in what I had expected to be a protracted and hard-fought five-set duel between two 13-5 teams, the Gaels instead beat the Guelph Gryphons in straight sets Friday. The Gaels looked quite dominant at times, but I think it was more due to poor play from the Gryphons than a truly outstanding match on their part, as they never seemed to quite hit that top level they're very
capable of.

The first set was actually very close, but didn't produce a great clash due to sloppy play from both sides. By my count, Queen's committed five service errors in the set, while Guelph added six more: there were also far too many net violations, passing mistakes and hits out of bounds for both sides. The Gryphons took a 20-17 lead, but then let Queen's come back to tie, and the Gaels eventually claimed the set
27-25 off an odd play: outside hitter Joren Zeeman went up for a kill (at the middle position, of all places), and slammed the ball right into the Gryphon block, but it came off the block, bounced off his head, recrossed the net and fell for the crucial set-clinching point. He could be a soccer player with moves like that.

The second and third sets were a different story, though. Queen's play improved, while Guelph's dropped even lower. The teams were tied at 8 early on in the second frame, but Queen's went on a run and never looked back, winning 25-17 and 25-18 in the last two sets.

As an aside: OUA needs to work on their statistics and scores, as Neate discussed on The CIS Blog a while back. In the third set, one of Guelph's points wasn't counted on either the official flip chart or the big scoreboard, and the final score was given as 25-18. It's not like it was a reversed ruling or something that I didn't notice, either: one of the points in my (detailed) notes simply was not counted. Thus, I'm pretty confident the real score should have been 25-19, but I'll have to report 25-18 in my Journal piece on Tuesday, which grinds my gears a bit. In this case, it doesn't matter, as Queen's already wins the
tie-breaker against Guelph for playoff seeding (the teams split their head-to-head games, the first tie-breaker, so OUA turns to sets for and against between the teams, where the Gaels triumph 5-3). As far as I understand, the next tie-breaker would have been points for and against between the teams, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that a silly error like this could hurt a team's playoff seeding, which is all the more reason to get it right.

There were some interesting moments during the match, but one of the best came when a honest-to-goodness bat came out of the rafters and started buzzing the players. The bat then proceeded to circle the court and the gym for the next two minutes, which forced the referee to put the game on hold and also led to some hilarious scenes of the Gaels trying to shoo the bat away by waving sweatshirts and such. It reminded me of last year's fake Journal published by Golden Words which included a great send-up of our sports coverage entitled "Gaels Smoke Out Ravens at Jock Harty". In a normal issue, that would be the headline for a story about a Queen's hockey victory over Carleton: there, it was instead a fake story about a group of orientation week leaders ("Gaels") helping University personnel clear out some ravens that were roosting in the rafters.

According to libero Stu Hamilton (who's still recovering from a flu which later developed into pneumonia, and thus saw limited court time tonight), bats have buzzed the Gaels at practice before, but never during a game. Head coach Brenda Willis also said she's seen the bat before during an international volleyball competition at Queen's, where it apparently forced a similar stoppage in play. This new athletic centre is sounding better and better all the time...

The play of the game goes to the Gaels' fifth-year All-Canadian setter Devon Miller (who, by the way, was facing a vastly less experienced counterpart, Guelph rookie starting setter Jon Waito). Queen's was pretty much running away with the second set, and held a 23-15 lead when Miller made an all-out dive and just snuck his palm under a hit from Guelph, popping the ball up in the air. Zeeman delivered a capable set, and Niko Rukavina smacked down a left-side kill to give the Gaels the point. The play didn't mean a great deal in the long run, as the Gaels would almost assuredly have won the set and the match even if they'd conceded that point. What it did show, though, was Miller's hustle and determination: a good reason why an undersized guy like him has consistently been an All-Canadian. He's not only one of the best pure setters in Canada, but also brings a strong defensive and blocking game largely due to his fantastic work ethic and never-say-die attitude. That attitude translates as well, especially when it's one of the team's stars who holds it, and in my mind at least, it's a good reason the Gaels have last year's OUA Championship banner on the wall.

This was a nice turnaround for the Gaels after a disturbing weekend loss to Laurier in just four sets (which perhaps can be blamed on my unfortunately predictive blog post last Saturday night, which said "Queen's should have a pretty easy time of it against 4-14 Laurier ... but you never know when an upset will strike"). Hopefully, tonight's win will give the team some momentum to take into tonight's clash with the 19-0 McMaster Marauders. As Hamilton also pointed out, it's not just Mac that's vying for a perfect record: the Gaels are 9-0 at home this year, so one stretch of perfection is about to end tomorrow: all that remains to be determined is which one it will be.

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