By Adam Button
It’s a word no athlete will ever say, and something no team will ever admit to, but Saturday at Queen’s University the men’s volleyball team choked.
Tied at one set apiece, the Rams carried all the momentum in the third contest leading 22-18. The Golden Gaels then served a soft floater that fell to the floor in front of three onlooking Rams. From there, Queen’s blocked the Rams four times in the final stretch of the set to win 25-23. The Rams couldn’t recover and went on to lose the match 31 (25-14, 17-25, 25-23, 25-16).
Before the game, head coach Mirek Porosa’s words foreshadowed the Ram’s failure. “If you can’t execute it is going to hurt you … We are breaking mentally at the end,” he said.
Physically, Ryerson matches up with every team in the league and with two former all-stars and last season’s kills, aces and points leader Anton Hauser, there is no question they have the talent. However, in every loss this year, the Rams have mentally faltered at the end of a crucial set.
“We’re not focusing on closing out the close games. I think we’re making too many errors at key points,” said middle Mike Nesti.
Hauser said the team may even bring in a sports psychologist to give them an edge.
Against Queen’s the Rams were mentally unprepared before the match even began. During the warm-up several of the Rams were mentally unprepared before the match even began. During the warm-up several of the Rams watched in awe as Queen’s stormed the court and began to run circles around the blue and gold.
Throughout the rest of the warm-up the Rams were often sizing-up their opponents, while hardly anyone from the confident Queen’s team glanced across the net, in a telltale sign of the team differences.
Queen’s head coach Brenda Willis said that her team’s warm-up isn’t designed to intimidate, and added that only undisciplined teams eye their opponents in the pre-game.
“We focus on us … We weren’t worried about Ryerson because we have the better team,” Willis said. “We felt from the very beginning that we were in control of the outcome of the game.”
Queen’s wasn’t the better team for that entire game. The Rams dominated the second set and most of the third with hard, accurate serves, near perfect passes and better digs than they’ve had all season. All of this against a Queen’s team that is the defending provincial champion and remains among the league’s top teams.
“We played some of our best volleyball of the year this weekend,” said the 6-foot-5 Nesti. “As long as we keep improving our game, we’re only going to go one way, and that’s up in the win column.”
But the time for taking positives from losses and talking about the future is gone. The Rams have six starters that are good enough to get into the playoffs. But to do that now, they will need at least seven wins in their final 12 games.
Porosa says he wants his team to win three of their final four games before the Christmas break.
Upcoming games against McMaster and Waterloo Universities are must-win, and if the team wants to be taken seriously they need to win at York University this Saturday. The Yeomen were ranked among the country’s top 10 teams at the beginning of the year, but have struggles early this season.
Rams setter Lukas Porosa says York is the team he’s eyeing. “They look at you like they’re better. I want to show them that they’re not,” he said.
The Ram’s final game before Christmas is against the undefeated University of Toronto.
Willis said she isn’t afraid of running into the Rams in the playoffs.
“Ryerson is one and five,” she said. “They’re not making the playoffs … unless they turn it around.”