At last posting, I believe we were half way through the season, sitting at 6 & 3. Things were going well for our young squad, considering our lack of experience in tough matches, as a group.
I made the decision to give the guys two full weeks off, as we had gone hard all fall, had met our goals thus far, and it had been about a decade since our program took a real break in December. I think enough time had past that I had forgotten how much regression happens, when you take that long a break. Needless to say, I was quickly reminded!
We went into the York invitational, with 3 practices under our belts in 2 weeks, and high expectations. Those aspirations were quickly dashed as our rhythm was off and we looked rusty to say the least. We finished sixth. The positive from that tournament is, I think we played our way back to full synch and came home match ready.
Our opening weekend was pretty positive, with another 3-0 win over Guelph and a close 3-2 loss to Waterloo; which was a much closer performance than we had against them in the fall.
We then headed into our longest road trip of the year, which is always difficult. We opened up at Western and went down badly in 3 sets. At Windsor the next day, things still weren't where I would have liked them to be, but we showed tremendous character and resolve in coming back from being 2 sets down to take the match 3-2. Mike Tomlinson went on a tear in that match, earning 31 of the team's 63 kills, good for 51%.
We followed that up with 3-0 wins over RMC and York, before dropping a 4 setter to McMaster. The final weekend of the regular season needed one win to lock our hold on 4th place, and a home playoff berth in the quarter finals. We secured that with a 3-1 win over Toronto, and then really didn't focus the way we needed to, losing an early morning match to Ryerson, to finish the regular season at 11 & 7.
We had a good week of training leading into the playoffs. Confidence was high, given that we had beaten York on both outings in the regular league. Things started out according to plan. We got up 2 sets to one. We seemed to entirely lose our focus in the 4th and York's outside hitters got on a roll. Despite that, we had 2 match points in the 5th, before dropping the closer 18-16. Two points! Two points, doesn't define a season; but it can terminate a season. First time in 9 years we were not in the final four of the OUA.
Incredibly painful. To have it in your grasp and to let it slip away. Hard to swallow, for sure. Yet, when I reflect back, I realize that this team came a long way. All we can do now is take away the lessons learned, train hard and come back stronger.
I have always said that things go in cycles. This was the opening of a new cycle for the most part. Of course our leader, Jackson Dakin, was in his final year and we will miss his leadership, expereince and quarterbacking skills, absolutely! He is to be congratulated on his much deserved OUA All-Star, Dale Iwanoczko Award, and Jenkins Trophy.
With all other players banking this experience, and poised to return; and the addition of a few exceptional recruits, the squad will look to better this year's finish - and both return to the OUA final 4 and challenge for a CIS berth.
Stephen Holmes and Matt Bonshor earned team Most Improved Honours, and Ivo Dramov was recognized as both the Team Rookie of the Year and a member of the OUA All-Rookie Team.
The OUA is getting stronger every year, and this year was a milestone for the conference, with two teams in the CIS top 4, and a silver medal finish. That brings an extra berth to the conference next season, and the competition to win one of those two spots will be exciting.
For the Gaels, it will be a matter of out working our opponents, it will be about using this experience to advantage and it will be about making sure that we keep moving forward during all periods of the calendar, and it will be about excellence in everything thing tricolour!
I am excited for what the future holds and I want to thank our support and administrative staff and all of our boosters, fans, parents and sponsors for all your support this year. You were fantastic!
Go Gaels Go!