By Dexter LeRuez
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold men’s volleyball team gritted their way through a five set thriller against the University of Guelph Gryphons on Saturday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
Saturday’s win is the Bold’s third straight against a nationally-ranked program. The win streak is helping turn around what initially appeared to be a disappointing season for the Bold, who were 0-6 before the streak began.
The win is also the Bold’s second in a row against the Gryphons who were ranked No. 10 nationally heading into the weekend.
“I think we knew they were gonna punch back,” said Rukavina. “We handled them pretty easily last night so we knew they were gonna come with a different plan and I think they did and they played really well, I was impressed with that team.”
It was clear that the Gryphons wanted to bounce back after a lopsided 3-0 defeat the night before. Guelph came out strong and took the first set 25-14. However, for TMU interim head coach Niko Rukavina, the Gryphons’ hot start was expected.
One difference between Friday and Saturday’s games was the potency of Guelph’s fourth-year left side Jonathan Pickett. On Friday Pickett managed just six kills—on Saturday he finished the night with 26.
Even after the first set the Bold struggled, going down 7-2 to start the second. However, the Bold fought their way back, closing the deficit to just three points on multiple occasions.
Nevertheless, the Gryphons showed why they are ranked tenth in the country by closing out the set 25-20.
The Bold didn’t back down despite being on the brink of defeat. In the third set, TMU went point for point with Guelph until the set was tied 13-13. At that point the Bold went on a 7-0 run to put the set out of reach for the Gryphons.
Just like the second set, the Bold came out cold in the fourth, going down 7-3 early on. However, the Bold dug themselves out of their hole to go up 23-20.
But the Gryphons clawed their way back to tie the game at 23 apiece. With just two points separating the Bold from losing, Rukavina called a timeout to calm his players down.
“Take care of the little things,” is what Rukavina said during the Bold’s timeout. “It’s just mental at this point. I’m not gonna coach them up, I’m not gonna change any technique at that point. I think it’s just taking care of the mental side.”
And that’s what the Bold did. TMU came out of the timeout and took two straight points to close out the set 25-23 and send it to a fifth and final tiebreaker set.
In the final set the Bold’s resilience was on full display. Both sides refused to give up without a fight. But in the end, the Bold’s mental game held strong as they took three straight points to give the Bold an 18-16 win.
In the final two sets it was the Bold’s second-year outside hitter Jacob Walker who led the team. Walker had 17 kills including four in the pivotal final set.
“I think in those close matches and fifth sets is where your studs come out and play,” said Rukavina. “Jacob is one of our guys and it doesn’t matter what he plays like the four sets before. When it comes down to it and we need points we are going to go to Jacob.”
It’s been a tough start for the Bold. With five of their first seven games on the road it took a while for them to find their footing and success. However, after three big wins the Bold believe they are beginning to show the rest of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference who they are.
“We had a very tough start,” said third-year middle Alex King. “I think throughout the first semester we still figured a lot of stuff out just in terms of tactics, what we’re gonna do game plan-wise. I think we have really solidified it for the past three games.”
The Bold’s momentum will have to be put on pause for the next few weeks as they head into the winter break. But King isn’t worried about that.
“Just having that mindset that the jobs are not finished,” said King. “Like Kobe [Bryant] said, ‘jobs not [finished]’, still got a whole semester to go, we got some tougher teams. We got some easier teams and we got tougher teams at the end, so yeah just staying consistent.”
Kobe Bryant and his mindset remained a recurring theme throughout the night, as Bold fourth-year Saad Shaikh also mentioned the five-time NBA champion.
“Our team loves Kobe,” said King. “We really wanna adopt that mindset you know? No matter what, it’s the work that pays off. Behind the scenes we are just trying to put in those hours.”
“Mamba Mentality all day.”
UP NEXT: The Bold will open up the second half of the season on the road at Trent University on Jan. 7. First serve flies at 3 p.m.