Lions win women’s volleyball provincial championship

The York Lions women’s volleyball team proved it was the best in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) on Saturday, Feb. 21, defeating the McMaster University Marauders 3-0 in front of a packed house at Tait McKenzie Centre to claim the provincial championship.

Team captain Nadia Reider was named the tournament MVP after recording 67 assists in the two matches while acting as an inspirational leader on the court all weekend.

The title is the Lions first in women’s volleyball since 1997. McMaster, who won the gold medal last season, finished with the silver this year while the University of Western Ontario Mustangs won the bronze with a 3-2 victory over the University of Toronto Varsity Blues earlier in the night.

As the only nationally-ranked team in the OUA Women’s Volleyball Final Four Championship at No. 9, the Lions were the favourites coming into the event and they lived up to that billing. The Lions were the best team in the OUA this year, finishing the regular season at 18-1, and continued that trend on as they crushed the Marauders in straight sets. The only blemish on the Lions’ record came two weeks ago when McMaster ended York’s hopes of a perfect record by defeating them in the final game of the regular season, but the Lions were clearly out for revenge, and they got it. The result was never really in doubt from the opening point as the Lions dominated from start to finish, feeding off the boisterous crowd that got more and more excited as the match went on.

In the opening set, the McMaster Marauders managed to stay close but the Lions made several big plays to win the first set by a 25-20 score. That was as close as McMaster would get all night. As the second set got underway, the Marauders became more and more frustrated and the Lions capitalized on their mistakes, running away with the set to win 25-12. The third played out in similar fashion, and when the ball went out of bounds on match point, the Lions screamed with joy at winning the gold medal on home court. 

Rookie sensation Thinesa Sriskandarajah was named player of the match for the Lions after posting a game-high 15 points while veteran Candice Paulsen added 13 points. Third-year middle Sarah Kiernan was McMaster’s player of the game for making several key plays and recording two kills and two digs.

The victory is especially sweet for graduating players Paulsen, Antonia Stathakos and Angela Frawley, who end their interuniversity careers on top.

The consolation final earlier in the night was a more closely contested affair as the Western Mustangs needed all five sets to edge past the Toronto Varsity Blues and claim the bronze medal. The Mustangs got off to a quick start and took an early 1-0 lead after a 25-21 first-set win. They were poised to take a stranglehold of the match in the second set with a couple of match points, but the Varsity Blues managed to hold them off each time and then made a late charge of their own to win 28-26 and level the contest.

That small triumph seemed to spark the Varsity Blues as they rolled in the third, frustrating their opponents en route to the 25-18 win. However, the Varsity Blues were unable to maintain that momentum as they began to struggle midway through the fourth and the Mustangs took advantage, showcasing some excellent plays to surge ahead and win the set 25-23 to send the game to the fifth and deciding set. 

Once there, the Mustangs team refused to back down as it had earlier and took the lead once and for all, winning 15-8. The bronze medal is a big step forward for the Western program as the Mustangs lost in the quarter-final round last year, while the Varsity Blues were silver medallists last season.

Western’s Nicole Smyrnios was named player of the game. She had 46 assists, 25 digs and five kills on the night for the Mustangs. On the other side of the net, Heather Bansley was named player of the game for the Varsity Blues for the second straight night after recording 34 digs and 21 kills in the losing effort.

With the win, the Lions have qualified for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Women’s Volleyball Championship beginning on Thursday in Fredericton, NB, where they will compete against seven top squads from across the country. In addition to the No. 9 Lions, five of the seven teams are nationally ranked and include the No. 1 University of Montreal Carabins, No. 3 University of Calgary Dinos, No. 4 Trinity Western University Spartans, No. 5 University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and No. 8 Laval University Rouge et Or. Also participating in the national championship are the University of Moncton Aigles Bleus and the host University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.