By Daniel Rocchi
With both teams boasting the last two perfect records in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) this season, the clash between the Ryerson Rams and University of Toronto Varsity Blues women’s volleyball teams at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on Sunday afternoon was bound to end bitterly for one team.
The Rams were that team.
Ryerson fell 3-0 (19-25, 23-25, 21-25) in straight sets against their rivals in the latest edition of the Downtown Showdown. With the loss, the Rams fall to 4-1 on the year and second in the OUA East, two points behind still-undefeated Toronto (5-0).
Outside hitter Emily Nicholishen led the Rams with 12 kills while libero Julie Longman had 17 digs. Toronto left sides Charlotte Sider and Denise Woodling had 17 kills and 15 digs, respectively.
“Today is not a doom-and-gloom day,” said Ryerson head coach Dustin Reid after the match. “We played really well at times today; I’m really proud of how we managed some parts of our game and I think we can be better in some aspects.”
The Rams started strong, winning the first two points of the match, but Toronto tied quickly and the teams traded barrages of devastating spikes. Ryerson struggled to establish its presence at the net though, and the Varsity Blues capitalized to win the first set 25-19.
“If you don’t execute perfectly against Toronto, they’re going to hit the ball to the floor, so you need to work the front row and back row together” said Reid. “The reality is, [each one] is only worth one point, and the key is to not let those give them momentum.”
Over the course of a hard-fought second set, the lead changed hands more than half a dozen times. Toronto used several hard kills to outlast the Rams 25-23 and take a 2-0 lead.
Ryerson found its net-front presence in the third set, with outside hitters Alex Whyte and Nicholishen teaming up with middle blocker Chelsea Briscoe for several key blocks to help the Rams erase multiple four and-five-point deficits. Ryerson forced a Toronto time-out when a service ace by outside hitter Veronica Livingston made it 20-18 for the Rams. But the Varsity Blues regrouped and out-battled Ryerson for the final points of the match en route to a 25-23 third set triumph.
“I think we learned a lot,” said setter Emily Betteridge, who had 14 digs and a team-high 26 assists. “They’re the first team we’ve played that’s given us a challenge with the blocking and I think we struggled with that, but I think taking away, we can go work on our defence this week.”
The Rams next face the York Lions at the Tait McKenzie Centre on Saturday, Nov. 15 at 2 p.m. Having tasted defeat for the first time this season, Ryerson will be looking for a strong bounce-back performance.
“To me, it felt like it was going to be a five-set match,” said Betteridge. “We just need to be prepared for that in the future.”