By Todd Ash-Duah
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold men’s volleyball team fell to the University of Toronto (U of T) Varsity Blues in four sets on Feb. 9 at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
After winning the first set, the Bold couldn’t sustain their momentum throughout the match and turn the tide in the “Battle of Toronto” as they fell short to the Varsity Blues for the 10th time in the last 11 meetings between the two inner-city rivals.
“We need to win the serve-pass game to win and I thought we did a great job of doing that in the first set,” said Bold interim head coach Niko Rukavina. “Credit to U of T for serving a great match.”
The Bold came out on fire to start the game, getting off to an early 13-6 lead in the first set, bolstered by their .571 hitting percentage along with three service aces. The home side’s early pressure forced U of T to call two quick timeouts.
Aided by an incredible dig by third-year outside hitter Kai Higuchi, the Bold closed out the first set with a bang. Fourth-year right-side hitter Alex King blasted the volleyball off a tremendous pass from third-year setter Taylor Wenzel that hit a Varsity Blues’ defender right in the hands. TMU had successfully managed to weather the storm and took home the first set.
“Our mentality was to be aggressive on serves and aggressive on attacks,” said Higuchi. “And I think we did a great job doing that.”
Winners of four straight coming into Friday, the Varsity Blues were not going to go down without a fight. U of T came out guns blazing to start the second set, bombarding the Bold with a barrage of attacks en route to a 7-1 lead that forced an early TMU timeout.
While the Bold were able to claw back into the set after their slow start, the Varsity Blues stayed in control throughout the frame and ultimately held off the home team to tie the set score at one apiece.
After notching three service aces in the first set, TMU had zero aces in the following frame and also finished the frame with six attack errors, which allowed U of T to capitalize on their various mistakes.
The third set began with neither team gaining the upper hand. The two sides went back and forth, trading blows with one another. Eventually, the Varsity Blues gained some separation from the Bold. The visitors went on a 7-2 run that was kickstarted by two kills by third-year outside hitter Hunter Arulpragasam to take a 16-11 lead.
TMU came out reenergized after a timeout, cutting U of T’s lead down to just one late in the set. Undeterred, however, the Varsity Blues showed impressive resolve down the stretch to take the third frame, 25-23, as the Bold’s comeback fell just short.
“To be honest, I don’t think that we had a bad game today,” said King. “I think there was just [a couple of runs] that got away from us. We just made too many mistakes.”
An incredible, diving dig by Wenzel led the Bold to an early 3-2 lead in the fourth frame, much to the chagrin of the crowd at the MAC.
Both teams then began to exchange powerful attacks with each other before U of T—bolstered by their .235 hitting percentage in the set to TMU’s .038 mark—began to take control.
“I just didn’t think that we were passing their serves very well,” said Rukavina. “We were passing behind our centre a lot and that forces the geometry of our offence to change a bit.”
The Varsity Blues closed out the victory with a kill by second-year setter Michael Hickey to take the final set by a narrow margin of two.
With the Bold mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and just three games left in their regular season, their main point of emphasis will be to control what they can
“Just fight,” said Rukavina when asked about what he wants to see from the team as the season comes to a close. “It doesn’t matter if we’re fighting for a [playoff spot] or not, it’s about competing. Tomorrow [will] be our last home game of the season so we just want to leave a mark on our home court.”
UP NEXT: The Bold will look to bounce back against the Varsity Blues tomorrow night at the MAC. The first serve is set for 8 p.m.