Back in the fall when we were getting underway, I thought about the number of people who were gone from the starting line-up. I thought about the limited number of CIS matches all our remaining guys had played and I also thought about our good fortune in recruiting and securing exceptional players both last year and this year. I believed it was definitely realistic to make the playoffs. Finishing in the top half of the league seemed like a good goal for us. After all goals are suppose to be realistic and challenging.
The talk around the league was that Queen's was rebuilding. Our assistant coach, Greg Stevenson coined the phrase re-loading; a phrase which I latched on to. Clearly we had the talent to do well, we had the drive to do well, we seemed to develop great team chemistry very quickly - a testament to our captain, Jackson Dakin and co-captain Jacob Glantz's leadership.
After only a few weeks of league, it became evident we could not only make the playoffs, but fight for a spot in the final four. Going into the Christmas break we were 6-3, a record which put us in the top four.
Should the goal then be to hold onto that position - top 4 - host a playoff berth - make it to the final four? Realistically, given the elements I inventoried early on, I might be inclined to say yes, but this group continues to progress and battle every day and now we strive to move up into the 2-3 side of the draw and make it to the OUA final. Of course, I know from experience, that anything can happen in one single match and in addition to that, the top 2 in the OUA go to the CIS Championships at Laval this year.
This past weekend we kicked off the second half. Our roster was altered somewhat as second year standout Scott Brunet was sidelined, while recovering from appendix surgery and 6'11" rookie Will Hoey was still out with his knee injury. We also added Daniel You, a Dalhousie grad and Queen's Med student to the roster, at least for the short term, while our regulars get 'fixed'.
Guelph was first to challenge us. They put up a great fight in the first and we showed some grit in pulling out a 26-24 win. The Gryphons stuggled to find their rhythm against some strong Queen's blocking in the second and we came away with a solid 25-10 set. The third set was better on both sides of the net, but our defense was the difference as we transitioned 11 balls to Guelph's 5 on the way to a 25-19.
The big test was Sunday, as we were facing the 10th ranked Waterloo Warriors. The Warriors took us out in 4 sets on their court back in the fall. We knew we had made progess in our play since then and had high aspirations going into the match, especially in our own gym.
The first set was exactly the kind of battle we expected. Both teams banging balls and making spectacular digs. The crowd cheered and applauded after several ridiculously long rallies. The Waterloo team has huge middles and they run a very fast offense, so our blockers were often in a time crisis. Despite that, and a credit to our defense, we were right there. Waterloo took the first
30-28. We stepped up our servering in the second and Waterloo wasn't as able to run middle; which made things a bit more comfortable for us. We took the second 25-12 and 25-22. After that, I think we were too comfortable and relaxed since we were up 2-1 and we failed to bring the level of focus and intensity we needed to finish them off. Waterloo also took more risk. They served very well, and we didn't respond and match that. We had several errors out of the gate, and even though we did step it up after a while, the Waterloo lead and momentum were in place. We dropped the last 2 sets 15-25 and 11-25. In the fifth, after being down 5-8 at the court change we battled back to 10-10, but then couldn't match their offense, going down 1-5 in the last 6 rallies.
The take aways from that experience are many. We are closer than we were in the fall. We need to block rightside/dig rightside better than we did. We need to serve well from start to finish and not let up when we are comfortable. In fact, we need to not be comfortable, so that we play with urgency, regardless of whether we are up, down or tied. We need to take more risk, run the middle more and try to keep the opponent's block more off balance.
Those things can be done. We have all the ingredients to achieve our goals. We are on a path and a plan for success and we need to be better tomorrow than we were today. That's our job and our mission.
We are off to London and Windsor next weekend and our next home stint is February 2nd and 3rd at 2pm. We take on York on Saturday and McMaster on Sunday.
Go Gaels Go!