By John Mather and Amit Shilton
Only one set away from elimination, the men’s volleyball team played last Thursday, Feb. 23 with an intensity and passion that was unrivalled all season.
Too bad it came five sets too late. The Rams lost the best-of-three Ontario University Athletics final against Queen’s, dropping the first game 3-0 and starting the second 2-0.
The Rams rallied back to win the next set, but lost 25-23 in the fourth by when the Queen’s libero Steve Willis bumped the ball just over a leaping Roger Marszalek and into the open court. “We just came one short on this freaking open bump,” said head coach Mirek Porosa after the game.
But it was clear the top-ranked team with a 18-2 record had lost it before then. The team was the first in Ryerson history to compete in a provincial championship. The Rams started the first set of the final match much like the first game of the series. The men traded points with Queen’s early on, but looked disorganized as the Gaels pulled ahead.
Queen’s eventually won the first set 25-18 after Ryan Vandenburg missed a spike. Throughout the game and the playoffs the team struggled to execute serves and setter Greg Marszalek lacked consistency. The team showed their first vital signs in the second set, rallying to tie the set at 15 after a slow start.
But, Queen’s came out firing after the technical timeout and was able to take the second 25-20. The Rams headed into the locker room, one set away from elimination. “I took them out and I told them to not play by emotion, don’t play on rhythm — play with a cold head and a warm heart,” Porosa said. “(We) just got a fresh breath of air and pressed the reset button and had a quick talk. This is our last chance; we have to give it all we got,” Roger Marszalek said about the time between the sets.
Back on the court, the Rams were determined to keep their season alive. They exploded to an early 16-9 lead and maintained their composure late into the set. The 60 Rams fans who bused to the game out-cheered Queen’s as the team rallied. They got a bit of a scare when Queen’s narrowed the gap to 22-20, but a big block by middle Nic Beaver helped lift the Rams to a 25-21 win. “It was great … anytime you do that in the face of your season it’s totally remarkable: it shows character,” Mark Roe said about the third set revival.
The momentum continued in the fourth set, and the Rams jumped to an early 6-2 lead. But more service errors and an upstart Queen’s team saw the lead vanish. Staring elimination in the face and with the entire gym on its feet, the Rams came up with two monster blocks, bringing the team within one point of a fifth set. It was the closest they got.
“It’s really tough because we had a good comeback and if we scored that point we would have won that set. At the same time they deserve to win because we didn’t finish off plays we should have,” libero Lukas Porosa said. Beaver agreed. “You can’t expect to win an OUA final if you’re giving points to them like that,” he said. “People didn’t play up to their potentials. We needed some people to step up and they didn’t. That’s the story of a lot of our losses this year.
“Ending the season with fiyr losses (in total), you can’t really complain. Unfortunately we fucking lost at the wrong time,” Beaver finished.
Ryan McCracken, a Queen’s middle, said beating the top team is how they wanted to win. “It was just about who played harder and wanted it more. And that was just what it came down to, and we were desperate for it.” After the game, coach Porosa gathered the players together and told them “it wasn’t meant for us today. We blew it at home by losing and we put ourselves in a very difficult position here.” He added how extremely proud he was.
A distraught Ryan Vandenburg, the OUA season MVP and the Rams star player, left the gym before the players were given their silver medals. The rest of the team walked over to the stands and applauded their fans, while captain Anton Hauser consoled a bleary-eyed Greg Marszalek.
“I think we need some time to get over this one; everyone’s pretty disappointed. It’s hard to move on. One step at a time and then we’ll worry about next year,” Hauser said. Porosa, who was named OUA volleyball coach of the year, said next year the team needs to play more competitive teams outside the province. He added that this year’s full roster is expected to return, including Vandenburg, and that they will learn from the experience.
“We’re moving up. We put the OUA on the map with the way we play. All season long we were top 10 ranked in Canada. It’s only this freakin step that we didn’t make. For competitive people it pisses you off, it makes you mad. But what can you do?”
Beaver wasn’t as upbeat. “I’m not happy we made it to the finals. I expected to make the finals at the beginning of the season. We wanted a win and we didn’t get it. It’s not bittersweet at all, it’s fucking bitter as hell.”