Monday, March 7, 2011

Season Comes to an Abrupt end

The loss of a season is very similar to a death. First there is shock, then disbelief, then acceptance, and ultimately you go into mourning. It takes time to grieve, time to reflect, and time to evaluate.

It is so tough when you see things unfold differently than you planned, expected and hoped for. Very tough indeed. And now that it is done, I look back and hope that we can learn some things from the hard lesson that this season became.

Things were moving forward quite late in the season. After a disappointing 3-2 loss to McMaster in the regular season, we pulled together very well for the last league game of the season. Learning from the McMaster game, we distributed the ball better, we mixed up our shots better and stayed focused on the process throughout, with no significant lapses, despite some push-back from the Gryphons. We had gone 5 with the Guelph squad back in the fall and they were one position behind us in the league standings. Set scores were 26-24, 25-17 and 25-21, giving us an authoritative 3-0 victory. Mike Amoroso was up against two very veteran (both 5th year) middles and showed what he can do going on an impressive 9 & 2 run, and added 2 blocks and 2 digs. Joren Zeeman and Bryan Fautley were their usual productive selves. Joren put up 17 kills on 38 swings, along with 2 blocks and 3 digs, while Bryan chipped in 12 kills on 27 swings with an impressive 9 digs and 1 block.

I felt it was a great recovery from the Mac game and a very positive way to end the regular season.

That left us in a tie with McMaster at 16 & 4, but based on head to head results, we lined up in third, and as such were slated to play the sixth placed Waterloo Warriors at home, in the quarter finals. There was no taking the black and gold lightly, despite their lower position in the league standings. In the two league outings this season, we beat them in five in their gym and then dropped the home match in four sets, in mid-January.

Things were going well in training in preparation for the playoffs, when we experienced a blow to the plan. 4th year left-side standout Niko Rukavina went down in practice with an ankle injury. As difficult as injuries are to a team's psyche, we seemed undeterred. A change in the line-up, utilizing third year left-side Matt Taylor in placed of Niko, and we carried on. Small adjustments to the passing alignment, and communication plan and away we went.

A solid performance against Waterloo in the quarters left us on the winning end of a 3-0 (25-23, 25-20, 25-17) match. Good job boys. No celebrating though..... as it was only one step on a staircase to our ultimate goal. Again, Amoroso went 9 & 2 and added 2 blocks and a dig, along with several positive touches, Zeeman was 12 for 27 and Fautley 10 for 22.

With much to do leading into the final-four weekend, we moved forward with the next game plan and a vision for how the week should unfold. Despite offering the boys a rest day, they opted to plug through, a small measure of their dedication to their goals.

On Tuesday of that week, we had another set-back. Dan Rosenbaum went down with an ankle sprain of his own. It seemed we couldn't buy a break!

Jackson Dakin, a gifted setter in his own right, stepped in and took over the quarterbacking assignment. He had done a great job with that all fall, while Rosie was rehabing a hip issue, and I felt a certain deja vu, as we had gone through the fall without Niko or Dan, and here we were again. My heart went out to those guys as they both worked so hard to get themselves back into the line-up, but at the same time, I did feel we could recover and that with our depth, we were up to the challenge.

Jackson worked diligently all week to re-establish a rhythm with his hitters. The boys kept their focus on the matches at hand and we kept pushing forward. As a coach, it is tough when you are down to one setter in practice, so I had to be creative in planning and implementing drills. We also had to adjust our warm-up routine, as we would be carrying that out with one set of hands.

We headed to Western on Thursday night. The ride went without incident and the boys seemed to be in the right head-space. Friday morning we headed to Alumni Hall for our normal pre-match passing session. We had a team lunch and then headed to the gym at 3:30, for our 5pm match.

Well, things didn't unfold as we had hoped. We missed some shots and some serves early on and after that we seemed to be rushed and uncomfortable in almost everything we did. Perhaps a credit to McMaster, but at the same time, a lot of it was just us. We passed low which made our middles late and our setter rushed. It was hard to get into a groove or find any kind of rhythm, until the third set, when we seemed to settled down. Perhaps it was because we were down two sets and no longer had anything to lose. We were doing well in the 4th, and were up 15-9, when there seemed to be a lapse in focus, and we let the Mauraders back in. We ultimately dropped the 4th 23-25, and the match 3-1. It is tough when you know you didn't play your best ball when it mattered the most. It is very tough.

So there you have it. A good season, plagued with injuries. More injuries than I can remember ever in my 24 years at Queen's. A season with high hopes and expectations. It is over. Now, we must put it behind us, and learn from it. We have a lot of work to do and a lot to look forward to. As the host of the 2012 CIS National Championships, we are guaranteed a berth. We won't rely on that though. We want to earn our way there and not just get slotted in as the 'host'. With no one graduating and what poses to be a great recruiting class, we still have a goal. We have much that can be learned from this season. Our goals are more immediate now, but definitely achieveable, and that is what we will focus on.

We want to thank all the fans who supported us this year. Playing in the ARC in front of big crowds is a special thing. Thank you to the Queen's Athletics and Recreation staff for doing everything possible to make us successful. A special thanks as well to the Assistant Coaches, Gabriel DeGroot, Greg Stevenson and James Battiston for all your work this season. I also want to acknowledge and thank Student Trainer Andras Switzer and Technical Assistant Wesley Chen for their contributions to our program.

All I can hope is that we come back hungrier and both physically and mentally stronger in 2012. This is a great group of athletes and I know that they are destined to do great things!

Go Gaels Go!