Game in Review: Queen's Gaels vs. McMaster Marauders Men

Saturday February 12, 2011

Queen’s University Athletics and Recreation Centre

Queen’s Gaels vs. McMaster Marauders

As the Men’s OUA regular season entered the last week of play, Queen’s and McMaster were separated by a single win. A win for McMaster would mean a three-way tie for second place overall between Queens, McMaster, and Guelph. All three teams would be guaranteed home court advantage in the first round, but come the second round those ranks will determine who gets to host a game in the final four (should those teams win their first round match-ups).

Queen’s right-side player 5 Joren Zeeman was coming off a career-high 30 points last weekend, and had been nominated Queen’s Athlete of the Week because of it. McMaster would have to keep Zeeman in check if they were to expect to come out of Kingston with a road victory. The last time the two teams met, the Marauders managed to stifle him and walk out with the victory. But that was in Hamilton.

The men took no time to warm up. The second point of the match was a hard ace for Queen’s 9 Brian Fautley. His next serve was as hard, forcing the Marauders serve receive to make another error. The next play showcased at least 5 digs, which the Marauders eventually won by playing an attack off the Queen’s block and out. The McMaster libero, 5 Josh Lichty, came out determined to keep everything off the floor. He probably managed 5 digs before the first 5 points were played out. Unfortunately, his incredible passing was being overshadowed by the Queen’s block. They managed to keep down the Marauders team as they built an early 15-7 lead.

As the first set progressed, a pattern developed. Queen’s would either find success setting Zeeman, or the Marauders defence would hold up long enough for a Queen’s error. At one point, McMaster won a rally solely by playing over free balls and playing tight defence. The effort brought them within four points at 18-14. At that time, the two teams exchanged missed serves in a poor display. The Marauders finally found some success attacking from the right side, provided by 3 Shayne Petrusma. They actually got the game to 21-19. That’s when Queen’s had seen enough. They won four consecutive points through attacks off of the Marauders block, and with tough blocking themselves. The Gaels finished the set ahead 25-19.

After the first set, Zeeman led all players with 7 points. The real reason was that blocking was so well executed on both sides of the net that few other players were able to find consistent success. The second set began with a comedy of errors. The first nine points had four missed serves and an ace that Queen’s failed to react to whatsoever. A fifth missed serve pushed the game to 10-10 before either team woke up. Zeeman provided the Gaels with a hard backcourt attack for a point. The Marauders tried to respond emphatically, but somehow two teammates tripped over each other while blocking. Queen’s happily tipped the ball right into the open hole of sprawling bodies, and then just as happily missed their next serve to give the ball right back to McMaster.

Queen’s tried to snap out of the funk the only way they knew how: feeding Zeeman. He managed to get a touch call on one attack that looked long out, and followed it up with a clean kill down the line on the next point. Of course, just as momentum was building back up, both teams missed a serve. McMaster had the lead, but by the slimmest of margins at 20-19. Just as in the last set, McMaster’s Petrusma provided a hard kill from the right side. Zeeman responded with his own offside kill to keep the game within one point. At 23-22 for McMaster, the Marauders powered an attack through the middle block to give themselves a set point. The McMaster block showed up on the next play to shut down Gaels’ Fautley. The McMaster Marauders won the second set 25-22 to even the match up.

The third set displayed much more consistency than the previous one. The missed serves were kept to a minimum, and the set developed a flow. McMaster provided incredibly defence and an attack that mixed sets between a range of players. Queen’s put up a strong block and focused largely on Zeeman on the right-side and 15 Niko Rukavina out at power. Queen’s also began playing 8 Matthew Taylor for Fautley. The two would substitute in an out for the remainder of the match. Queen’s managed to pull into a four point lead with their strategy, and the flow of the set made it difficult for McMaster to come back.

McMaster allowed Queen’s to run away with the game in the middle of the set, as the Gaels pulled ahead 17-13. They would maintain that four point lead with backcourt attacks from Zeeman. Regardless of his position on the court, Zeeman remained a part of the Gaels’ attack. McMaster’s best weapon was their team blocking. It managed to bring them as close as three points at 23-20. That was as close as they would get, as 4 Ian Cooper missed a serve, and the Marauders put their next attack out to end the set 25-20 in Queen’s favour. After the third set, Zeeman had racked up 18 points, while McMaster was lead by 7 Michael Sjonnesen with only 9.

Each set seemed to take on a different tone. The second set was dictated by errors, and the third by the flow of the game. The fourth set had a bizarre tendency of following impressive plays with foolish errors from the exact player that had done so well on the previous point. First, Queen’s Taylor put down an impressive backcourt kill through the McMaster block. He missed the ensuing serve. Then, McMaster’s Kevin Stevens put an ace down on the Gaels side. His next serve missed the court entirely. Zeeman joined in on the pattern with his own impressive backcourt attack, which he followed with a missed serve. The emphatic kills that normally punctuate the Men’s OUA games were much harder to come by due to the impressive blocks both squads were putting up.

As the set progressed, McMaster pulled ahead 14-9. Queen’s tried to reverse the trend by replacing their starting setter with 14 Jackson Dakin. His quick sets in the middle were suspect, but somehow Gaels’ 13 Michael Amoroso found a way to turn them into kills anyway. Amoroso’s strong quicks at middle were surprisingly small in quantity considering the impressive quality of kills he managed when he was set. Zeeman gave back the advantage Amoroso provided when the offside player hit the next attack far wide. The Gaels responded with another quick, which was again somewhat suspect. Somehow their other middle player, 12 Anthony Pitfield, managed to correct it as well for a point. Queen’s were staying in the set down 16-12.

Queen’s managed to tighten the lead even further as the set progressed. Amoroso got blocked, but managed to dig his own blocked ball. The dig went perfectly out to power, where Gaels’ Rukavina put it away on the second ball. Queen’s found themselves as close as they had been all set, down 20-18. The final stretch proved a bit bizarre. Gaels’ libero, 6 Alex Oneid, dug a ball perfectly high. However, nobody on his team made a motion to get to the ball, and it fell to the floor. This seemed to spur on the Marauders. From there, Sjonnensen took over with emphatic quicks that the block failed to even get hands to. The McMaster Marauders won the fourth set 25-22 on Sjonnensen’s offence from middle, and less than enthusiastic digging from Queen’s.

Though I have pointed out many of the errors of the first four sets, that is not to discredit the level of play. The reality was that both teams had such a heavy presence of blocking, and McMaster especially showed proficiency at digging, that very few points were won on kills. Instead, it was the team that showed any mistakes that ended up losing points.

McMaster stormed out to a 3-0 lead at the beginning of the fifth and deciding set. The Gaels responded with another kill from Zeeman. McMaster’s Lichty put his digging skills on display with two obscene digs on the same rally. Sadly, his team was on the net as his efforts went for naught. Zeeman then put down the hardest kill of the day, as if he was saving some energy for the very last set. Fautley put down a cross-court kill right after as the Gaels managed to tie the set at 5-5 after the early lapse. Fautley was blocked on the next play, but made up for it with a strategic tip over the block on the next attack. Obviously, he learned from getting blocked. Sjonnensen showed he wasn’t to be upstaged by running a fluid quick as though he could’ve done it sleeping. The Marauders went into the turn ahead 8-6 with serve.

As if he only cared at the end of sets, Marauders’ Petrusma came through again with a huge kill from the right side. After that, the McMaster squad managed to finally time Zeeman’s attack, and roofed his hit for an 11-6 lead as the crowd began to become unruly. Truly, the building was putting out much more noise pollution than anybody expects from a volleyball crowd. The home team was down, and the crowd wanted to feed them energy for the final stretch.

Somebody forgot to tell McMaster that’s how things worked. Their block showed up more enthusiastic than ever, as they block both Rukavina and Zeeman on consecutive plays to push ahead 14-8. The set was punctuated by Sjonnensen running another quiet quick through the Gaels’ block. Sjonnensen’s kill won the fifth set for McMaster 15-9, as the Marauders take away a road victory by winning 3-2 in sets.

Joren Zeeman led all players with an unreal 24 points. Fautley was second on the team with 10.

Sjonnensen led McMaster with 15 points, followed by a great effort from power player Kevin Stevens with 11. Their attack was much more well rounded than Queen’s. I felt that their best player was the libero, Josh Lichty. The Gaels’ cross-court attack was entirely shut down by the digging fiend.

With the win, McMaster forces a three way tie between Guelph, Queen’s, and the Marauders. Queen’s and Guelph will play tomorrow afternoon to decide who takes which position. McMaster have guaranteed third place for themselves due to the calculations of sets won and sets lost.