By Luke Bellus
QUEBEC CITY—The Ryerson Rams came into nationals with a perfect 22-0 record on the season and they showed just how good they were on Friday night.
The Rams defeated the University of British Columbia Okanagan 3-2, punching their ticket to Saturday night’s semi-final, where a birth in the national gold medal game will be up for grabs.
But the win was by no means an easy one.
For just the third time in 22 matches this season, the Rams were forced to play five sets. Ryerson was forced to the limit, and UBCO was making them work for everything they got.
When two teams play for the first time you expect a bit of a feeling out process, but this was not the case Friday night as both teams came out fast and came out swinging.
To make matters more difficult, the Rams found themselves in a difficult position early on, down two sets to none.
“There was no Hail Marry speeches, we just knew that we had to win one set, and if we do that then we have the ability to try win another set,” said Rams coach Dustin Reid. “We played much better in the second and we just let some opportunities get away from us.”
At the technical time out in the first set, the Heat were up 16-15. The Rams were gifted four of their 15 points thanks to service errors by the Heat, but they couldn’t rely on that to provide offence all night. Ryerson had no answer for UBCO and dropped the set 25-22.
Although the Rams hadn’t dropped a game this year, this wasn’t new territory for them: In both the OUA semi-final and final the Rams dropped the opening set and proceeded to win the next three.
The second set didn’t fail to match the first’s action, with both teams once again trading chances and leads. Again, the Heat led 16-15 at the technical time out.
Soon, UBCO opened up their biggest lead of the set–three points–before a Rams timeout at 21-18. The timeout didn’t slow the Heat down, however and they won the next four points after the break, taking the set 25-18.
The Rams found themselves in some unfamiliar territory, down two sets to none. However in both previous games in which the Rams dropped the first two sets, they managed to climb back and get the win.
Not only were the Rams in tough, but the Heat were 10-0 in the regular season when holding a 2-0 set lead.
The third set saw the Rams take charge early forcing a timeout from the Heat with the score 10-5 for the Rams. The Heat were quick to respond, drawing even with the Rams at 13 points apiece with momentum on their side. Ryerson was quick to respond with a 3-0 run, giving them a 16-13 heading into the technical timeout.
After that, it was all Rams, leading to another timeout from the Heat with the Rams up 19-14.
The Rams needed just one point to send the game to a fourth set, but the Heat weren’t going to roll over; three-straight points cut the lead to four and the Rams called timeout.
UBCO cut the deficit all the way down to one point, and with the score 24-23, the Rams were able to breathe a sigh of relief when the Heat server sailed her serve long, giving the Rams the third set.
That set win gave the program their first-ever set victory in the main draw of the national tournament (the Rams took one set in the 2017 U Sports Tournament against Dalhousie in the consolation semi-final)
Ryerson led the fourth set 16-10, but the Heat weren’t going down easy. UBCO took 12 of the next 18 points forcing a couple of timeouts from the Rams.
With the score 22-22, the teams took the court again with the Heat still serving. The Rams took two of the next three points to earn set point and a service ace from first-year setter Alicia Lam gave the Rams the fourth set. Just like that, this game was headed the distance.
This season the Rams were 2-0 in fifth sets while UBCO was 0-1.
Ryerson went up 8-6, with UBCO hot on their tails. But the Rams wouldn’t let the Heat take them down, winning the fifth set 15-8.
With the win, Ryerson has guaranteed that they will play for a medal on Sunday. But first, the Rams will take on the top-ranked Calgary Dinos Saturday night.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Reid. “I don’t expect to get much sleep tonight as we prepare for them. They’re a very well-rounded team, a very confident team, they handle a lot of difficult moments with ease… We’re going to have to be the best version of ourselves.”
UP NEXT: The Rams will take on the Calgary Dinos in the semifinal at 8 p.m.