Women’s volleyball: Ottawa wins provincial gold, York takes silver

York Lions Women's Volleyball players in action
York Lions Women’s Volleyball players in action

Despite a thrilling comeback effort, the York University Lions women’s volleyball team fell just short in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) gold medal game on Saturday, Feb. 22, losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Ottawa Gee-Gees 3-2 in front of a boisterous crowd at the Tait McKenzie Centre.

Earlier in afternoon, the fifth-seeded Toronto Varsity Blues upset the third-seeded Ryerson Rams to win the OUA bronze medal in straight sets by scores of 25-20, 25-21 and 25-20.

After dropping the first two sets of the gold medal game, the Lions bounced back with a championship effort to force the fifth and deciding set. The Lions looked ready to dominate, opening with a 5-2 point run that eventually extended to a 10-6 Lion lead, until a six-point run for the Gee-Gees put them ahead by two. The Lions fought hard to recover, but eventually lost the match-clinching set 15-13.

York came out strong facing elimination in the third set, surging to a 16-10 lead at the technical time out with critical kills from middle blocker Michelle Pierce (Windsor, Ont.) and Jennifer Black (London, Ont.). The Lions’ strong play continued throughout the set, which featured clutch performances from Pierce, outside hitter Brandie Wilkerson and libero Carley Flemmer, and they rolled through the Gee-Gees to take the third set 25-14.

The Lions rode the momentum from their strong third set well into the fourth, picking up 10 of the set’s first 12 points. Ottawa would manage to settle the pace down with some timeouts and trailed just 16-9 at the technical time out. Though the Gee-Gees returned with some tough play, going on a 5-1 point streak after the time out, the Lions stymied their comeback effort and finished the set with a 25-18 win to force the all important fifth and final set.

The Lions struggled early in the first set, falling behind 10-4, but rallied back to tie the game at 15 before Ottawa went on a six point run that blew open the opening frame. York rallied again, with critical kills coming from outside hitter Melissa Humana-Paredes, Pierce and Wilkerson to make it a close set, but ultimately lost by a score of 25-23 to fall behind one set to zero.

An extremely close second set saw the Lions rebound from an early Ottawa seven-point run, thanks to heroic efforts from Pierce and Humana-Paredes. Middle Beata Dye contributed a few kills with tricky tips as the Lions recovered from a 24-22 deficit to force the extra points, falling just short as Ottawa took the second set 27-25.

Pierce was named the Lions’ player of the game, leading her team with 23 points including 13 kills, four service aces and a game-leading six blocks. Wilkerson added 22.5 points for the Lions, with 16 kills, four service aces and 2.5 blocks. Flemmer led all players with 27 digs in the game, and setter Tisha Rouse led all players with 38 assists.

Myriam English earned player of the game honours for the Gee-Gees, leading her team with 21 points, across 16 kills four service aces and one block. She also led her team with 18 digs. Setter Christina Grail set up 34 assists for her team, and Alix Durivage and Karina Krueger Schwanke led their team with three blocks apiece. Krueger Schwanke was further honoured by being named MVP of the Final Four tournament.

The two teams occupied the top spots in the OUA this season, and York finished ranked No. 4 in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), while Ottawa was ranked No. 7. They met just once in the regular season, in November, when the Lions won a thrilling comeback victory in five sets.

Ottawa will advance to represent the OUA at the CIS finals, which take place in Sherbrooke, Que., from Thursday to Saturday.

The bronze medal game featured a straight-set upset of the Rams at the hands of the Varsity Blues.

Ryerson opened the game with a strong four-point run until an early timeout by Toronto settled the Varsity Blues, who went on to pick up eight of the next 10 points as they jumped into the lead with the help of critical blocks from Jennifer Neilson and Shannon Rossall. The Blues continued racking up points against the Rams and took the first set by a score of 25-20.

The Rams came out with a vengeance to begin the second set, opening with a five-point streak and later adding a six-point streak with big kills from Chelsea Briscoe, Veronica Livingston, and Chelsea Jensen en route to leading 16-8 at the technical time out. The Blues would rally back, earning 15 of the next 19 baskets on the way to taking the second set 25-21.

Building off their late-set momentum, the Varsity Blues exploded to a 7-1 lead early in the third set. Though repeated kills from Livingston would see the Rams go on a 10-4 point run that evened the score, and would trail just 16-14 at the technical timeout, Toronto surged ahead with an 8-4 point run as they battled to a 25-20 third set victory, taking the match in straight sets.

Ryerson’s outside hitter Alexandra Whyte and Toronto’s middle Rossall were awarded their teams’ player of the game honours.

Rossall led all players with 17.5 points in the game, across 12 kills and five blocks. Outside hitter Alexandra Hudson added 9.5 points for the Blues, with five kills, 2.5 blocks and two service aces. Rebecca Crosier and Charlotte Sider led the team in digs, boasting 19 and 18, respectively.

Emily Nicholishen earned 12 points, good enough to lead the Rams with nine kills two assists and two blocks, as well as 14 digs. Jensen added 10 points and added 15 digs for her night’s effort. Whyte contributed eight points with five kills and three blocks.