OCAA Championship in Review: Humber, Redeemer, and Mohawk Impress

Newnham Recreation Building, Toronto

Saturday February 26th, 2011

Gold: Redeemer Royals vs. Humber College

Bronze: Mohawk Mountaineers vs. Seneca Sting

Going into the OCAA Championship Final, the build up left for plenty of open-ended questions. The first one that comes to mind is how a team from Ancaster, with less than 900 students enrolled, and an 8-10 record going into the playoffs, has emerged as the number one contender to defending champions Humber. Could they make the Gold Medal Match a viable competition? The audience turnout left other questions, since hosts Seneca had finished their playoff run with a deflating loss in the bronze medal match earlier in the day. Would the out-of-towners bring an equal intensity?

Those two questions were answered with such enthusiasm that it became ridiculous, and other questions emerged from the results.

Full results and breakdown after the jump:

Audience members began flooding in throughout the four o’clock hour, resulting in a sold out crowd for the finals. The Redeemer Royals must have pulled out 50% of their entire student body, and they were there with a purpose. With faces painted, full war gear in hand (metal, not plastic), an array of noise options, and endless endurance, they became an aspect of the game in themselves. The Royals had a drummer, and I don’t mean a guy with a drum. I mean a drummer with at least a three-piece set that played patterns. Consistently.

Humber wasn’t about to be outdone, bringing out an equal sized section of supporters from the other side of El Toro. Their signature Hawk mascot made an appearance. They had forms of megaphone, and pom-poms. As a percentage of an entire school, and in terms of the insanity in their eyes, Humber was down a notch. But they gave every bit of volume they could to keep their squad feeling the energy. This volume is not to be underestimated. Babies were wearing protective headgear.

And then they got down to volleyball. Immediately it’s apparent that Redeemer is more than a loud fan base. This team can play volleyball, and are exchanging points back and forth with an impressive Humber squad. Redeemer finished with a Bronze last year in the OCAA Championships, and had an impressive 13-3 regular season record. Their inconsistency this year is puzzling, but the team showed up to play down the stretch, and that’s all that counts now. Not only are the Royals exchanging with Humber, but also neither team is giving much leeway in terms of errors. The game pace is fast, and much more fluid than any competition seen in previous matches today. There is a step-up towards next level volleyball present in the gym, and it only helped that every play, no matter what, was punctuated by waves of noise.

Humber managed to keep a slight lead throughout the early first set, warding the Royals off 18-15. The Hawks pulled off a kill from 9 Brandon Wong out of the backcourt and through a triple block. They follow it with a big roof, and on the very next play block a Redeemer attack hard enough to pack its attacker back in his face. A hard serve that forced a shank pushed Humber’s lead to 21-16. Redeemer let Humber know they were still there with a huge stuff on a well-run rip by Hawks’ 18 Andre Brown. His play was strong all set, and the Royals let Humber know they weren’t to be underestimated by shutting him down on such a well executed attack. However, the first set was out of reach. Brown got his revenge almost immediately, with a huge roof as a statement to end the set. Humber took it 25-18.

The second set opened to Hawks’ 14 Paul Kemboi having minor issues with an error into the net. Then the Royals got their block together to shut Kemboi down again. Slightly rattled, Kemboi soon after lost control of a pass during serve receive. It was enough for Humber to make a change, throwing 7 Brandon Cullen, in his first year of eligibility, on to the court. By the time Humber got their first point, the score was 7-1. And they earned that point off a missed serve.

After that, Humber emerged from their rut. The position they were caught in passed and some back-and-forth volleyball resumed. A solid rally ended with Humber tightening the score to 12-9, which they followed up with an ace from 11 Derek Quinn for 12-10. The fans were reaching a tipping point as Humber chipped away at the Redeemer lead.

The Royals managed to keep their lead at a decent distance right up until 18-14. They’d led the entire set, and only the final stretch remained. However, they coughed up a point on a terrible miss-hit backcourt attack, and were forced into a time-out at 18-17. Coming off of the break, Hawks’ 17 Matthew Isaacs kept the momentum flowing with a huge block to tie the game for the first time in the set. Next, a tight call went Humber’s way after an intense blocking joust above the net for the Hawks’ first lead. The Royals put their next attack wide, and call a time-out to collect themselves.

Down the stretch, Humber showed their diversity in skills. First, a huge roof from Quinn. Next, they displayed their digging with an incredibly diving save, which they smartly tipped over after the scramble for a point. Next was a powerful attack that overwhelmed the block and went out for a Hawk point. A tough float serve ripped through the hands of Royals’ 9 David Klomps’ hands to end the set 25-19 Humber. After a 7-0 start for Redeemer, Humber ended it with an 11-1 run of their own.

In their two regular season matches with Humber, the Royals pushed it to five sets both times. Their play showed they weren’t about to go anywhere, and neither was their audience. The very first play of the new set showcased a Royals block, and Redeemer once again took an early lead, this time 5-2. The set remained tight, but Redeemer maintained this lead, as they had throughout the second set.

At one point, Humber ran an incredible step attack that lost the block entirely. Somehow, the Royals managed a diving, one-handed dig. After forcing a Humber free ball, they transitioned to attack and took the point. The Hawks’ Kemboi, after being put back on the floor for the third set, was stuffed on his attack, and once again was replaced by Cullen at 11-8 Redeemer. The Royals managed a second unbelievable play when 5 Derek VandenBrink pulled off a diving, one-handed dig to keep the play alive. Right away, Redeemer gets their block together for a point and a 13-9 lead.

The frustration boiled over for Humber, after 12 Bobby Anderson was called on the net. On the next play, he packed Royals’ 2 Steve Stone hard in the face. Truly, that must have been a numbing experience. The Royals still had the lead, but only by two.  The Hawks substituted 10 Mack Robertson in for starting middle Andre Smith, and the move immediately paid off as Robertson snuck a kill through a triple block from a backcourt attack. A tip on the next play tied the game and forced a timeout at 16-16.

Coming out of the time-out, Redeemer immediately respond with a tough one-handed set for a sweet quick from the middle for a point. A Humber miss added security to the Royals lead, which they hadn’t given up at all in the third set. The Hawks’ substituted in 8 Jason Mascoll in for Bobby Anderson, and now had only half of their starting line-up on the floor. Redeemer are hitting the floor, going for every ball. The Royals managed a perfect pancake dig on a Humber tip attempt, and transition immediately to an attack on the left-side that punishes the Hawks’ defence. Redeemer extended their lead to 21-18.

Humber tightened the gap with help from an ace from Isaacs. Redeemer responded with a tough set on a rip attack from the middle attacker, which turned into a tip. Regardless of how it comes, it counts. Humber’s next attack caught a piece of the antennae, and Redeemer led 23-20. Hawks’ Cullen reared back and ripped an attack off the Royals’ attack and out, but Humber gave away the advantage with a missed serve from Quinn. The gift put the Royals up 24-21, giving them set point.

On set point, Redeemer 11 Joshua Dykxhoorn pulled off another ridiculous diving dig. However, as they transitioned to attack, Humber put together a block. It was still set point at 24-22. Redeemer’s next attack, coming from Klomps, got blocked again. The ball rolled for what seemed like an eternity along the net, but fell on the Royal’s side. Still at set point, the Royals led 24-23.  At this point, Humber elected to replace their initial starters, except for Kemboi in favour of Cullen.

An incredibly tough joust, high above the net, was won by Humber to tie game up. Jousts are incredibly difficult to win every time, and this particular one came off a Humber overpass to begin with. However, the huge stuff took away Redeemer’s set point. Humber put a more impressive point away with a kill from Bobby Anderson on the right side. Now the Hawks had their first lead of the game, which just so happened to be set, and match point at 25-24. It didn’t take long, as the rattled Redeemer squad overpassed the ensuing serve over the net and out.

The Humber Hawks become with OUA Champions with a 26-24 set victory. Congratulations to Humber for defending their crown from last year. Their team has only two starting players in their final year of eligibility. One is Brandon Wong, the other Paul Kemboi. The team’s bench looks deep, and a full men’s and women’s legacy could be in the mix for Humber.

Bronze Medal Match

Mohawk Mountaineers vs. Seneca Sting

Seneca and Mohawk had packed mornings of volleyball on Saturday. First, Mohawk barely edged out Nipissing in a five-set thriller. Next, Seneca managed to get by Sheridan in straight sets, but those sets were 26-24, 25-23, and 25-21, as neither team really displayed that next-level talent. Both of the morning games had their fair share of errors, and it appeared that the team that played more consistent would come out of the OCAA Championships with a bronze.

At least, that was the prediction on initial speculation. But that's why the game is always played anyways, regardless of what it looks like on paper. The Mohawk Mountaineers came out flying in the first set. Their bench was louder, their offence more complex and filled with orchestrated plays. Seneca's offence was slow to start, as 9 Peter Christian failed to put an attack in the court multiple times early. Mohawk took everything they were given and stormed out to a dominating 17-9 lead before Seneca knew what hit them. Seneca could only muster free balls over the net, and Mohawk would happily make the Sting eat more attacks. Seneca substituted Christian off as his inconsistency continued, but it was far too late. Seneca missed their serve, to add salt to their wounds, to hand Mohawk an easy 25-12 first set.

The second set played out similarly. Seneca, now warmed up, tried to stay in it as best they could. However, Mohawk's 10 Cameron Henschel was unstoppable from the middle. The Mountaineers' setter, 3 Zac Schulz, continually found success with tricky tips over the net whenever he was in trouble. To add to their troubles, suddenly the Mohawk block picked up and refused to let any Seneca attack over the net. Finding themselves in another hole, Seneca this time tried substituting their setter out for fresh hands. Again, it was an empty gesture. The Sting's 11 Evan Minshall missed a quick attack entirely to hand over the set to Mohawk 25-14.

The third set offered Seneca their last chance at a medal in 2011. Sting 5 Predrag Gajic did everything he could to motivate his team. After some heavy hits early on, Seneca found a bit of life. They were down 12-7 at one point, but strong blocking and maintaining consistency tightened up the score at 14-13. However, a couple more points for Mohawk caused the starting Sting setter, 6 Kyle McCann, to get quite frustrated. His teammates had to drag him away from the referee at one point. The burst of emotion trickled down to his team, as a failure of communication caused an ace to fall between players. The score was once again extended to a five-point Mohawk lead. Seneca did what they could, but were blocked on two consecutive plays down the stretch, which really took away from their momentum. The Sting finally managed to block the Mohawk setter's cheeky tip, but it was far too late. The Mohawk Mountaineers won the final set 25-19 for a straight set victory in an hour and three minutes. It really was a dominating performance.

After their lackluster morning, the Mohawk Mountaineers proved their worth and earned OCAA Bronze for 2010-11.