By Mitchell Fox
The Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold women’s volleyball team gave their graduating players a rewarding send-off on Saturday, defeating the Trent Excalibur in straight sets at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).
For the last home game of their regular season, the team hosted Senior Night to celebrate all of the players who will be leaving the team at the end of the season.
Bold head coach Dustin Reid said the night offered an opportunity to reflect on each of the players’ time at TMU, but more than anything, “it was their game.”
“It’s really great as a coach. You sit back and watch how much they care about one another,” he said. “That’s why we played so well today. Because they have that affection for one another.”
The team has nine departing members this season, including eight players and one staff member. Lauren Veltman, Britney Veltman, Ashley Ditchfield, Kylie Ferguson, Megan Kesner, Mikayla Sherriffs, Alisa Gavva, Maya Griffith and Katherine McKenzie were all recognized for their contributions to the team.
Along with a video tribute on social media prior to the weekend, they were given framed photos from the season and took photos with their families before the game.
With the victory, the Bold are now on a five-game winning streak, earning their way into the top five in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings.
Reid said resilience and being able to win games when they did not play their best were key to the streak.
“We responded to a really tough defeat here on our home court to Nipissing with tremendous reflection and just trying to see how we can improve. [I am] really super proud of how we’ve done that,” he said.
The Bold have two games remaining, both against the Guelph Gryphons, who they passed in the standings with the victory and the Gryphons’ loss to the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday. If the Bold win both games against Guelph, they will secure home-court advantage and could even catch the McMaster Marauders for third place.
Reid said the team has earned themselves the opportunity to play for such a fate.
“The last five have been about giving ourselves that opportunity,” he said. “We’ll need to be our best to get some results.”
Lauren Veltman attributed the team’s strong run of play to connecting better as a team than they did during down periods earlier in the season.
“The connection’s coming back, and I feel like that creates such good energy on the court,” she said. “Clearly once you connect, you get rolling.”
With dominant portions of each set, the Bold powered their way through an Excalibur squad with just two wins this season.
The Bold fell behind 7-1 in the middle frame as the Excalibur mixed things up offensively. However, with Lauren Veltman firing hits and first-year outside hitter Tyra Krapp putting together a streak of serves including two aces, the Bold stormed back and took over to take the set at 25-17.
Reid said the second-set comeback showed what the Bold came to do on Saturday.
“I would say from the first minute today, not just in the game, but from the minute everyone got here today, they wanted to see a great night for the graduating players,” he said.
The biggest difference-maker for the Bold was Lauren Veltman, who was finally getting her Senior Night send-off three years after finishing her undergraduate degree.
After not playing on Friday, she made an impact early and often on Saturday. She led the way with six kills, two blocks and three digs in the first set as TMU cruised to a 25-14 victory, then became their go-to hitter in the second set.
The experienced outside hitter proved too powerful for the Excalibur, firing hits through block attempts and towering over the net for blocks of her own. She finished the game with 18 kills and 11 digs.
With 201 points and 179 kills this season, she is now among the top three players in TMU women’s volleyball history in both categories, with 932 and 769 respectively. She is also ninth in digs.
All of the seniors made their own unique impact on the game. While Lauren Veltman led in kills and points, Ditchfield led with four blocks. Kesner had 31 assists paired with 11 digs. Ferguson led with 14 receptions and was second to Lauren Veltman in attacks. Sheriffs had a bit of everything on offence and defence while adding a service ace to tie Bold assistant coach Brett Hagarty for tenth on the school’s all-time records—with 55 in her career.
Britney Veltman, the Bold’s captain, has been out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury since Nov. 11. She has played in just one set in the time since.
Despite re-injuring her ACL earlier in the week, wearing a knee brace and not being fully healthy, she played on Saturday. Britney started each of the first two sets from the service line and subbed in for the match-winning point.
Earlier in the season, the Veltman sisters told The Eyeopener they were looking forward to Senior Night together.
“It exceeded my expectations for sure,” Britney said, holding back tears. “Being able to be out there with the girls one last time was amazing.”
Britney, who teared up at the game’s end, said it was “surreal” to be in the group hug following the win with the teammates who have been supporting her throughout her injury.
For Lauren, it was “a special night” getting to finally have her Senior Night with her sister.
“Not being able to have this opportunity before and then being able to share it with Britney was definitely an experience,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people get to do that, so I think we’re very lucky.”
“I think everyone is just so excited to see her out there. They wanted to keep her on as long as possible,” Lauren added.
Reid said Britney deserved such an experience, even with her re-injury, after she put off surgery to return for this moment.
“She’s an amazing leader,” he said. “The way that she’s handled those responsibilities while dealing with her own heartbreak and discomfort and dealing with injury in general, it’s been really inspiring for a lot of players.”
Reid said he feels a “tremendous amount of pride” seeing the players put together the season they have.
Some joined the team before the pandemic, some during and some after. But, many were part of the team’s winding road to find themselves with their best record since 2019-20 with two games left to go.
Reid highlighted Ferguson, who moved to Toronto to live in residence when classes were online and there was no OUA season.
“She’s the one out there tonight playing a position that’s a little more unfamiliar to her so everyone else can be more comfortable. [That] just speaks to how much these [players] have given each other and given back to the school,” he said.
“I’m very, very proud of this group.”
UP NEXT: The Bold head to Guelph, Ont. for back-to-back games to end the regular season next weekend. The first serve on Feb. 16 comes at 4 p.m. at the Guelph Gryphons Athletic Centre.