By Bryan Meler
Ryerson Rams (2nd OUA East, 15-4) vs Guelph Gryphons (3rd OUA West, 12-7)
OUA quarter-final game: Saturday, March 4 at 4 p.m. @ Mattamy Athletic Centre
OUA Season Series vs Guelph: 1-0 (3-1: 21-25, 25-7, 25-20, 25-15)
Before the Ryerson Rams host—and thus automatically participate—in the U Sports national tournament later in March, they’ll first look to continue making Ontario University Athletics (OUA) history.
They’ve set a new program record with a 15-win season, but the Rams will begin their quest for their first OUA gold medal when they take on the Guelph Gryphons in a quarter-finals matchup today at 4 p.m. at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.
“Nationals is in the back of our minds, but we’re focused on winning the OUA first,” said Theanna Vernon, the Rams leading middle blocker. “We all want the taste of winning a banner for Ryerson.”
The Rams have had mixed results against the Gryphons this season. After losing in their first matchup at an exhibition tournament in October, the Rams will be entering the playoffs with momentum on their side, having beaten the Gryphons in February on their way to closing out their season on a four-game winning streak.
It’s the type of momentum the Rams will need if they want to climb their way to gold this postseason, a feat that they’ve come so close to accomplishing in the past; losing to the U of T Blues in last year’s OUA final.
Throughout their last month of OUA competition, the Rams have found their stride, with their only loss coming against the McMaster Marauders, another team they’ll possibly meet in the playoffs and at nationals.
At the moment, their focus remains on the Gryphons, led by a powerful duo of outside hitters in Victoria Golebiowski and Maddie Dedecker. To go along with their powerful offence, Guelph has a tandem of middles in Jessica Gormley and Libby Donevan, who have led the Gryphons to the most solo blocks in the OUA.
The Gryphons and Rams are similar in the sense that they both let their defence lead their offence, and will both be looking to control the net in their quarter-final matchup. To go along with their protection up top, both teams also feature some of the best defensive specialists in the OUA, with Julie Longman of the Rams and Kayla McMullen of the Gryphons both sitting within the top 5 in total digs this season.
Offence will be hard to come by, but the Rams have showcased one of the most efficient attacks in the league behind star players Vernon and Veronica Livingston. The former leads the OUA with a 38.9 hitting percentage, while the latter became the first Ram to reach the 1,000 career kills mark this season.
The Rams will look to Livingston for both her stellar play and her leadership, with her being the only remaining fifth-year senior able to play on the team. Livingston used to have another vet in the lineup alongside her in Becky Zeeman, but that was before she had to undergo ankle surgery just last week.
Losing an experienced player in Zeeman—who also holds an assistant coach position on the team—definitely hurts the Rams as they enter the postseason, but they have players who have proven that they’re more than capable of stepping up.
Most recently, the Rams received a spark from Jade Griffiths, a third-year outside hitter who last week was able to earn Ryerson’s athlete of the week honours. Against the Lakehead Thunderwolves, Griffiths came alive and proved to her team what type of asset she can be in Zeeman’s departure; setting career-highs with 14 kills and 13 digs.
Rams head coach Dustin Reid will have to continue to find ways to make sure his team can flourish while not losing sight of the end prize after having their best regular season in program history. For now, all they’ve earned themselves is a chance to start the run to their program’s first banner.
The Rams will try to get one step closer when they face the Gryphons at 4 p.m. on March 4 at Coca-Cola Court.