Saturday, February 19th
Burridge Gym, Hamilton
Western Mustangs vs. McMaster Marauders
The OUA West Quarter-finals were to be decided on Saturday, as McMaster and Western geared up for competition. Western, the lower ranked team of the two, was looking to ride into Hamilton and steal a win from the home team. McMaster would have to prove they are still the better team, even without their regular offside starter Kaila Janssen. Janssen went down with a lower-body injury against Queen’s last weekend, and could be seen with a walking cast in plain clothes on the bench. Western had their own fair share of drama, as their team coach bus ignited into flames last weekend, taking a significant amount of equipment and valuables with it.
McMaster elected to start 6 Genevieve Dumas in Janssen’s place. The first set got going, but it started out slowly. The first point was decided on a Western attack that went directly into the net, without a prayer of ever getting over. The next point was won on a tip after a great pass from the Marauders libero, 4 Meagan Nederveen. That may have been the cleanest play in the first half of the set. The rest was litered with errors and scrambling defence. Plenty of attacks were going wide and long, some attackers couldn’t coordinate with their setter and would time balls entirely wrong.
Finally, McMaster 8 Shannon McRobert managed a fluid and impressive quick to pull the Marauders closer to Western at 10-8. Of course, it was just one bright spot amongst a tough first set. McMaster’s next attack went directly into the net. Western tried to mount some offence, but their team couldn’t make it through the Marauders block. Luckily, the block was off enough that the ball fell on McMaster’s side. With that, Western pulled to a three-point lead at 12-9.
After a couple more plays, the teams actually began to get rallies going. Not that they were the purest example of high-level volleyball, but at least both teams were managing to scramble and hustle to get to each ball. Western’s 12 Elaine Screaton and 5 Sarah Johnston were particularly adept at digging tough balls off their own team’s block. Eventually, their tough digging lead to a McMaster error as they became frustrated with the Mustangs’ defence. Western led 15-11.
After a missed serve, and a blocked attack, McMaster was looking for anything to change the momentum. Dumas was substituted out for 5 Meghan Jamieson, who immediately provided a perfect pass on serve receive. The only problem was McMaster couldn’t keep their attack in the court. Western managed to win a couple points by hitting off of the McMaster block, and another attack wide by Marauders 14 Larissa Puhach gave Western a clear-cut 20-13 lead.
McMaster’s McRobert had been the brightest part of their line-up so far, and did what she could to bring the game back to decency. She hit a fluid quick, which the Western defence managed to dig. However, the ball floated right back over to McRobert, and she happily roofed it to the floor. That would be the end of McMaster’s run for the first set. Passing miscommunication, and poor serve receive kept McMaster down. Western won the first set 25-14, with their most effective attack being the tip to the middle of the Marauders defence.
The second set broke out of the weak pattern that the first had established. McMaster came out with more intensity, and took an immediate lead. Though only one point came off an attack, which was a roll, McMaster put up a 4-0 score on the power of defence, and forcing Western errors. However, two early missed serves from 9 Amanda Weldon and Puhach brought the Mustangs right back into the game. The Mustangs got a big team block on a real tight set by the Marauders, and the game was tied at 6-6.
Western libero, 4 Claire Morrow, made her presence felt in the second set. A great serve receive led to a quick that packed a Marauder right in the chest. The next point was won by incredible digging, which featured Morrow prominently. The McMaster side was digging as well, as Puhach and 3 Lauren Skelly were both all over the floor with their defence. It just wasn’t enough, as nobody was there to pick up a nice save from Skelly, and the ball fell to the floor. The set really began to look more like the impressive play we expect out of OUA competition. That was, except for McMaster’s serve receive. After one serve receive was shanked, Western ran with the momentum and managed to pack a girl on the Marauders squad for the second time in a really short time period. McMaster again shanked the next serve receive, and they were forced to take a time out to recuperate. Western led by a slight 14-12 margin.
McMaster learned a lesson during their time out, and came out ready to play. 1 Sarah Kiernan managed an ace on her serve, then McRoberts out-muscled the Western team on a joust high above the net. A nice team block on the left side gave McMaster a 4-0 run after their time out.
However, the lead was short lived. Puhach was blocked on the very next play, as the set she got was incredibly difficult to deal with. Puhach then shanks the following serve receive. The very next play, nobody at all on the Marauders’ side makes a motion towards the float serve. It lands for an ace. Skelly, who generally acts as a Marauders defensive player, was substituted out at that point for 13 Kailee Stock. On the next play, Western’s setter, 2 Jenna Thomson, faked a set, and smartly tipped deep into the corner. After all that, Western had put together a 5-0 run and took the lead back 19-16.
Compared to the play at the beginning of the first set, this seemed like two entirely different squads. Now the attacking consistency was there, but the block on both sides of the net had woken up so much that no attacks were coming easy. Western managed a point that trickled off the Marauders block, but McRoberts managed to keep two consecutive blocks in play for two McMaster points. McMaster’s Kiernan put away an incredible quick set for a point, narrowing the lead to one point. Western responded with a quick of their own from Johnston on the very next play. An ace from the Mustangs force a set point at 24-21, and they eventually won the set from another tip that landed in the middle of McMaster’s defence. Western won the second set 25-22, and looked to be in position to pull off the upset.
Coming out for the third set, the Western team looked like a unit together. They were in a tight circle on the court before the set began, while McMaster came out as a crowd of individuals. Though seemingly more talented on a player-by-player basis, McMaster found themselves deep in a hole against the Mustangs team.
After scrappy play early, Western managed a slight lead. A backcourt attack from Western’s Screaton put the Mustangs up 4-2. McMaster came out with high intensity digging, and managed to extend more than one rally. Their attack came out slow, but they managed to win points with a solid block. At one point, Janssen’s substitution Dumas actually ran a constructed offensive play, where she crossed into middle for a smart kill. However, just when their attack picked up, their passing fell apart. First, they miss their serve. Then two straight serve receives were shanked for Western points.
McMaster was at a loss, and substituted out their setter Amanda Weldon for 10 Heather DeBoer. It’s a strategy they’ve employed before when their team is in a rut. This time, it worked. Though they were down 10-6, the Marauders won the first five points after DeBoer got onto the floor. Of course, they won points on an error from the Mustangs setter, a great roof on the Mustangs’ leading attacker Screaton, a miscue on serve receive, and an ace that fell in the Mustangs’ corner after looking long. Even though it wasn’t directly the setting, McMaster was back in it.
With the brief momentum, Marauders’ Puhach began to find her groove. On one single play, she was blocked two consecutive times. However, the Marauders were there to dig both, and Puhach learned on her third set to roll the ball strategically into the corner. It landed in for the point. A McRobert kill, followed by an ace from Kiernan put the McMaster team up by a couple points. The Marauders’ Puhach and Mustangs’ Screaton then exchange kills off the block for points, but Screaton was forced out of the front court on the ensuing rotation.
Down the stretch, Puhach stayed hot. She managed to stuff Western with a huge block, and put another ball off the Western block and out for a point. Then she stepped back to serve, and provided an ace to move ahead 20-15. After a nice dig from the Marauder’s libero, Western’s 3 Kelly Frittenberg couldn’t manage to time her quick set. Her knee was covered in a large brace, and she seemed to come down favouring it as though she didn’t have enough strength to jump in her traditional fashion.
When all was said and done, McMaster went on a 12-6 run to put a stamp on what was once a competitive set. The Marauders won the third set 25-18 to force a fourth.
By the fourth set, everybody had warmed up. Now these two teams were digging adeptly, attacking more consistently, and even the fans were making lots of noise to support their home Marauders. McMaster elected to stick with DeBoer setting, as her spark gave them the push that force the fourth set. Unfortunately, the decision turned out to be the incorrect one early. Where Western’s setter made some cheeky dumps to salvage tough passes, DeBoer made some minor miscues that were called lifts. McMaster was forced to call a timeout, and DeBoer was immediately taken to the side for further instruction.
Western built up a five-point lead with an ace from 9 Rebecca Oxland, who had been providing stellar serving all day. However, the Mustangs got a bit confident and began to slip. Screaton’s next attack went directly into the net. A soft tip attempt got blocked, and a step attempt from Frittenberg went long. The team looked frazzled, and were happy to let a serve go by that looked out. Unfortunately, it was a float serve, which dropped right amongst the defence. The lead had disappeared entirely, as the game was now tied at 10-10.
Western managed to keep a slight lead off beautiful attacking from Screaton. On the McMaster side, Puhach put down an impressive cross-court attack of her own to keep the score close. However, they gave back the advantage with a missed serve on the very next play. On the next play, Marauder’s Stock pulled off an obscene one-handed diving dig to keep the play alive. However, Puhach could only sit and stare as the ball fell to the ground anyway. McMaster had seen enough, and swapped their setters to bring Weldon back into the game, down 14-12.
Even when Screaton wasn’t an available attacker from Western, they were finding offence. Sarah Johnston put forward a nice quick after Screaton’s serve receive took her out of the play. Next, McMaster’s Weldon made two impressive digs to keep the point alive, but Mustang’s Jenny Pierce kept calm and put away an attack from the left side to negate any solid defence. Western managed to extend their lead to 18-13.
McMaster, now with their backs to the wall, resorted to their most consistent player. McRoberts put away a beautiful and fluid quick for a point, and followed it up with a big block to swing some momentum back McMaster’s way. With the score 18-16 Western, neither team would let any easy point land. Screaton put up a huge dig for Western, but Marauders’ libero Nederveen did it one better with a beautiful pancake. As the game got deeper, and remained tight, McMaster substituted in 18 Patricia Raso where Janssen would normally have played. The hope was that fresh legs would give them the necessary push.
McMaster’s Sarah Kiernan, who at times gets overshadowed by the strong middle play of McRoberts, took this time to impress the audience. A beautiful quick right off of serve receive brought the game to within two points. After Western caught the antennae with a dig, she then hit a fluid step attack after a Western free ball. The game was tied at 21-21 after McMaster had trailed the majority of the set.
In the very last points of the set, Western managed to miss two serves and shank a serve receive, essentially giving the set away. Screaton, of course, would disagree. She put away two huge kills from the left side to keep the game close, and even push to 24-23 Mustangs. That meant set, and match point. However, that’s when the second Mustangs missed serve occurred, tying the game once again. Screaton missed her next attack down the line, but just by the slightest of margins. On the ensuing set point, Western couldn’t handle the serve. The McMaster fans exploded, as the Marauders won the fourth set 26-24 to force a fifth and final set.
What had begun as a sloppy affair between two teams managing their emotions, had now turned into an exciting barnburner that I couldn’t turn my eyes away from. The fifth set would decide who would move on into the OUA Semi-finals, and continue their dreams of becoming OUA Champions.
Western managed to earn the very first point of the set on a difficult joust at the net. Puhach made her presence felt on the next play with a solid kill from the right side. After an amazing effort by the Marauders libero to keep the ball alive, Kiernan bumped into Weldon attempting to set the ball, and it fell to the ground in deflating fashion. Next, Screaton was blocked by the McMaster squad, but it somehow barely squeaked over. Then, Johnston missed her timing, but somehow barely touched the ball enough to roll off of the net tape and over, for another Western point. McMaster looked to be low on energy, and on the ensuing serve, Stock shanked the pass. As if it weren’t enough, the Mustang’s Johnston gets blocked on her attack, but it somehow bounces off of her shoulder and goes over and in for another bizarre point. The Mustangs jumped out to a 6-3 lead with some bizarre volleyball.
Screaton and McRoberts exchanged some hard kills, but exchanging points would not end well for the host McMaster. Dumas, the Marauders replacement for Janssen, managed to muster a nice kill from the right side to keep her team in it. A Screaton backcourt attempt went directly into the net after that, bringing the game to 10-8 and giving life back to McMaster. Then, the bizarre returned, as Western libero Morrow was barely able to get her hands to the McMaster serve. However, it somehow bounced off of her wrists, and perfectly over the net where a stunned McMaster team let it fall.
With only a few points remaining in their season, McMaster had to do something. They salvaged a point as Western’s Frittenberg had issues jumping with her bandaged knee. A great set from Weldon then led to a kill from Stock to bring the final set to 11-10. After such an incredible battle, it only made sense that it would go down to the wire.
The final points happened so quickly it was tough to react appropriately. Jenna Thomson won a point on another sly tip over the net, which she pulled off throughout the five set marathon. McMaster substituted out Frittenberg, who had been inconsistent with her serving all day. Her substitute, 7 Stephanie Kantzos, put together a great run. She managed an ace, and on the final play, McMaster shanked a serve they couldn’t deal with. A 5-0 run gave Western the 15-10 set victory, and a 3-2 match victory.
Congratulations to the Western Mustangs, who will be moving on to play York next weekend in the semi-finals. An emotional week took a turn for the best, as these girls will surely need some rest over the next couple days.
Elaine Screaton led the way with 22 points for the Mustangs. Their setter, Jenna Thomson, managed to earn an obscene 12 points while still putting up 40 assists. while Larissa Puhach had 17 for McMaster, while Shannon McRobert put in an incredibly efficient 15 points.