The men’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams ended their seasons with playoff losses to the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Sports Editor Charles Vanegas looks at what happened, and what’s next for the Rams most likely to contend
After winning their first-round match against McMaster, the women’s volleyball team lost in straight sets in their semifinal matchup against the Gee-Gees, and then again to the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in the bronze medal game.
Despite closing with two straight losses, this season can only be described as an outright success. Just two years removed from a horrendous, injury-plagued 2010-11 season in which they went 1-18, the Rams put up their best record in program history at 14-4 – four more wins than their previous best effort.
“We had an extraordinary year this year, but we have a lot of work to do to if we want to take that next step,” said head coach Dustin Reid after the loss to Ottawa. “I believe in the players we have here.”
It’s hard not to. Led by first-team OUA all star Chelsea Briscoe and OUA Rookie of the Year Veronica Livingston, the entire Rams roster is eligible to return in the fall, and features a solid core of players who will be around for at least the next three seasons.
Against the evenly matched Gee Gees in their second-round playoff game, Ryerson came out swinging – with point guard Jahmal Jones picking up 15 points to have them leading by one at the half. After a few phantom calls gave Bjorn Michaelsen four fouls early in the third quarter, Ottawa’s Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue was able to pick up 21 of his gamehigh 31 points in the second half, with the star forward on the bench.
With both teams trading momentum and leads throughout, the game came down to the wire.
Down two, with seemingly no one to pass to due to the staunch Gee Gees defense, Michaelsen was called for a travelling violation with 7.6 seconds to go, effectively ending the game and the season.
“I’m just proud of the guys because I can honestly say they left it all on the court,” said guard Afeworki Gebrekerestos, after his final game as a Ram.
Just a year ago, this team was in the same position as the women’s volleyball team was this season: a program on its way up, that by simply making the OUA Final Four was meeting or exceeding team goals. But after stunning the Lakehead Thunderwolves in the semis and earning a trip to the CIS National Championships, aspirations were raised.
With Ryerson failing to reach the OUA Wilson Cup this year – an event they are hosting at the Mattamy Athletic Centre – it begs the question: was this season a failure?
Despite improving on last season’s 13-9 record, there was enough talent on this team to get back to the Final Four. The Rams retooled their roster – bringing in guards Yannick Walcott, from Dalhousie, and Ostap Choliy, from York, to add to what was already considered one of the best backcourts in the country with Jones, Aaron Best and Jordon Gauthier.
They were supposed to be lighting it up this season, and they did in the first half, knocking off all opponents faced in 2012 en route to 10-0 record and a top ten national ranking.
But things started to unravel after a home loss to the reigning national champion Carleton Ravens, followed by a road loss to Laurentian.
After stringing four straight wins, the Rams lost three more – including an inexplicable 61-67 decision to the Toronto Varsity Blues, who were 2-16 at the time. Had they won, the Rams would have been guaranteed second place in the OUA East, giving them a first-round bye and allowed them to play every playoff game at home up until they possibly made the CIS Championships.
Ryerson proved in Ottawa last week that they can go on the road against very good teams and play well, but if they had just managed to win one more away from home, they could have played at the MAC, where they were 9-1. Staggering into the playoffs after going 5-5 in their last 10 games simply isn’t good enough.
As Walcott said to me after the game, “It’s a tough division. The OUA is no joke.” There are three great teams in the East – Carleton is the gold standard, having won seven of the past nine national titles, with Ottawa and Ryerson playing catch up. They could very well be the three best teams in the OUA, but only two from the division make the Wilson Cup. Being third isn’t good enough.
“It’s tough now, but that sting should carry us for the next couple of years, and hopefully we can learn from it and just get better,” said Gebrekerestos.
The team’s greatest need is at forward. If head coach Roy Rana can find pieces to help Michaelsen and rookie Juwon Grannum properly compliment the team’s potent collection of guards, they can take that next step to truly become one of the nation’s elite teams.