Illustration: Camila Kukulski

2017-18 Preview: Rams men’s volleyball looks to bounce back to nationals

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By Kintaro Skinner and Rameez Hameed

The Ryerson men’s volleyball team is set to tip off their 2017-18 with a matchup against the McMaster Marauders on Oct. 27.

After winning all three of their preseason matchups, the Rams look ready to start this season where they left off the last. This year, they’ll be looking to finish atop the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East standings for the first time since 2005-06, while striving to make it back to the U Sports national tournament after missing out last season.

What happened last season:

The team finished with a 12-6 record in conference play last season, good enough for second in the OUA East. In the playoffs, they made it all the way to the OUA bronze medal match, but fell 3-2 to the Guelph Gryphons. It ended their chance to return to the national championship after making it there for the first time in 2015-16.

Ryerson’s seniors had some terrific campaigns last year, as setter Adam Anagnostopoulos finished second in the OUA in assists, and outside hitters Lucas Coleman and Brendan Kewin both finished in the top 10 in kills. Libero Taylor Jordan was also solid, earning himself a place on the OUA East all-rookie first-team.

Anthony Cicchi, Will Otten and Uchenna Ofoha also played in their final campaign with the Rams, and the latter of the three finished on the OUA East first-team.

Rookie to watch out for:

The volleyball program at Ryerson has undergone a youth movement. After having a total of seven seniors on their roster last season, the men’s lineup now consists of four seniors and seven freshmen. One of those freshmen is international prospect Gregory Vukets, who resided in New Zealand before joining Ryerson this season.

Newly appointed Rams head coach Adam Simac plans to use Vukets, a versatile player capable of playing several positions, at setter this season. “We now have two legitimate setters that we can almost freely interchange,” said Simac. “It’s rare that a coach in Ontario gets to use two talented setters such as Greg and Adam Anagnostopoulos.”

Vukets comes to Canada with a wealth of experience after being the captain of the Westlake Boys’ High School for three years, while also playing for New Zealand in U17 and U19 beach volleyball competitions. Simply put, Vukets is bred to play volleyball. His entire family has had experience in the sport; his sister Annaelise, is currently on a volleyball scholarship at McGill; his mother is a volleyball coach; and his father represented Canada at the junior level. Vukets should be able to slot in nicely with a well-rounded team that finished second in the OUA East last season.

What a successful 2017-18 would look like:

“The goal we set from day one is to win Ontario (OUA),” said Simac. “On top of that is to medal at nationals. The players agreed that that is definitely within the realm of possibility but the amount of work to get there would be no small feat.”

The four returning seniors have a lot of work to do this season if the Rams want to make it back to nationals for the first time since 2015-2016. With the influx of rookies, the veterans will have to take on a leading role for the younger players to follow.  

Definitely keep an eye out for Adam Anagnostopoulos and Lucas Coleman, who both finished on the 2016-17 OUA first-team. Coleman is also in his final year after recording 4.41 kills per set last season, good enough for second in the OUA. Anagnostopoulos is known to be one of the best passers in the conference, with leading numbers in last year’s playoffs in both assists (147) and assists per set (11.31). 

Last year’s crushing loss in the semifinals and the tough bronze medal defeat will be motivation for the older players, who can use their playoff experience as an advantage.

Inspiring and motivating the younger players will be very important for their success, especially with the addition of Sean Shultis, the six-foot-nine giant from Springfield, Virginia. There’s plenty of young talent on this roster, and with the right guidance, they have the potential to reach their goal of winning the OUA. 

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