BURLINGTON, Ont. – It’s down to just four teams, as the men’s volleyball championship is up for grabs this weekend in familiar territory. The championship-hopeful teams will head to McMaster University to once again compete to take home the Forsyth Cup.
Details surrounding the upcoming Forsyth Cup Final Four can be found in the 2018 Men’s Volleyball Championship Fan Guide.
Leading the charge once again on their home turf is the West Division’s top seed, the McMaster Marauders, who will be looking to run their streak to six straight OUA titles when they take to the Burridge Gym court this weekend. Not only will they be poised to make even more noise in this Final Four action, but they’ll do so behind an all-star filled roster to boot; much like they have in years past.
Not the least of these talented standouts is Player of the Year Andrew Richards (London, Ont.), who along with fellow first-teamers Brandon Koppers (Georgetown, Ont.) and Matt Passalent (Hamilton, Ont.) will look to continue the team’s offensive onslaught this season. Together, this trio leads a McMaster squad that combines to connect on OUA-leading marks of 12.53 kills per set and a hitting percentage of .284, wreaking havoc for any opposition on the other side of the net.
Part of what helps them reach such lofty net play is their precision passing, as the maroon machine tops the OUA with 11.72 assists per set. Their powerful play, meanwhile, continues to the service line as well, as Mac supplements their net play with almost two aces per set, while also boasting some of the most effective solo blockers in the conference (3rd in the OUA in solo blocks).
Under the guidance of now five-time OUA Coach of the Year, Dave Preston, the Marauders will ride their 15-2 regular season, as well as their clinical quarterfinal performance, into their semifinal clash, but a showing similar to that of their dominance over Nipissing would go a long way. Not only did the Marauders earn the win to begin their quest for the Cup, but they did so by surrendering just 39 points and out-earning the Lakers by 24 overall. The Marauders pounded home nine aces, dug out 25 balls, stood tall for eight blocks, and shone especially bright with a .409 hitting percentage, showing once again that their all-around game makes them a continued threat for a six-peat.
It won’t be an obstacle-free course to the finals for the hosts; however, as they’ll first need to navigate their way through the Windsor Lancers for another shot at the Forsyth Cup crown.
In their two previous matches this season, the Forsyth Cup semifinalists competed in two closely-contested matches. Despite McMaster taking all three sets both times, the Lancers pushed the Hamilton squad to their limits, and will surely be hoping to take the next step on the weekend. In the first match, the Marauders didn’t hit below a mark of .429 in any set, and were led by their all-star trio’s combined 43 points. Similarly, despite a strong push in the final two sets of their second match, the Marauders’ key players churned out the key points and led the maroon and white to victory.
Not to be outdone, Windsor does bring with them an attack-heavy squad of their own that is proficient in several facets of the game. The Lancers rank third in total attacks (1,864), connecting at a clip of .242 (5th in OUA). On the other side, the blue and gold matchup well with their semifinal combatants, as Windsor is also one of the best when it comes to blocking; ranking second in total blocks on the year (161) behind a conference leading 1.26 per set from John Moate (Oakville, Ont.).
Also helping the Lancers reach these impressive heights on the year is First-Team All-Star Pierce Johnson (Chatham, Ont.), who once again took a leading role in the team’s quarterfinal tilt against York. Johnson finished with a match-high 19 points on 15 kills, and behind his sizzling .400 hitting percentage for the match, the West Division’s number three seed outdid their regular season success rate at the net; something they’ll surely need to keep up against the host squad on Saturday.
Joining Johnson as ones to watch in their Final Four efforts are Brad Gyemi (St. Anne’s, Ont.), who is a fellow top-ten player when it comes to points per set (4.1), as well as Noah Langley (Uxbridge, Ont.), who gets the offence rolling with his 9.40 assists per set (5th in OUA). Overall, it’s clear that the Lancers have several key cogs in their championship aspirations, but for the machine to operate in its finest form and up-end the five-team reigning champions, each piece will need to work together to reach its highest potential.
On the other side of the bracket, the Ryerson Rams will enter as the East Division’s top seed and are heading into action on the heels of a tough quarterfinal clash with the Waterloo Warriors.
Despite entering as the underdog, the Warriors forced Ryerson into a five-set nail-biter that saw plenty of ebbs and flows for the reigning fourth place finishers; but now that they’ve once again secured their spot in the this weekend’s Final Four finale, the Rams will surely be looking to turn in a championship-caliber performance to spell last year’s bronze medal loss.
Led by the East Division Player of the Year Lucas Coleman (Brooklin, Ont.), the Rams have found success all over the court this season, as they rank in the top five in hitting percentage (.245), kills per set (11.49), and service aces per set (1.38), while also sitting sixth in blocks. Another big reason why Coleman and the Rams have thrived this year is once again the play of former OUA Rookie of the Year Adam Anagnostopoulos (Waterloo, Ont.), whose setting prowess is among the best the conference has to offer. The setter ranked fourth in the OUA in assists per set with 9.66 and his steady play remains a catalyst for the championship-hopeful Rams.
Among other top Rams players, it is a third senior that will also look to have a significant say in the final outcome. All-Star Brendan Kewin (Milton, Ont.), ranked second on the squad – only to Coleman – in several key offensive categories such as points per set and kills per set, so if the Rams want to slay their semifinal foe, the outside hitter’s 3.8 points per set average will go a long way.
Certainly, Ryerson’s diverse overall skillset has done them well over the course of their campaign, finishing with a 12-6 record; and that mark includes both a sweep of their semifinal opponent Queen’s Gaels, as well as a three-set loss at the hands of the Tricolour.
In their first match of the season, both schools came out swinging, as each powerhouse secured hitting percentages north of .450 in the opening set, but it was the host Rams that were able to better maintain that pace over the following two sets to secure the win. Flipping the script just a couple weeks later, however, the Gaels turned in a dominant effort in to grab the straight sets win.
For the Gaels to continue their success, something they have done quite well over the years with four titles in the last 12 seasons, they will hope that Rookie of the Year Zane Grossinger (Richmond Hill, Ont.) can continue to outdo his outstanding regular season efforts. In his first taste of the playoffs, Grossinger eclipsed his per set mark in assists by five, en route to a career-high tying 56 for the match. The Gaels offence rode the high-flying play of their setter to a 3-1 upset win over the No. 2 ranked Western Mustangs, and will look to steal another match against their second straight higher-seeded foe.
Along with their freshman phenom, the Gaels will turn to First-Team All-Star Marcus Trence (Hockley Valley, Ont. ), who led the OUA in kills on the year. The hard-hitting star secured 4.3 points per set, good enough for fifth in the conference this season, and did so on the back of 3.65 kills per set and a top-10 mark in total service aces. Beyond these impressive efforts, Trence also ranked fourth in digs per set, showing that whether he is helping to save the point or finish it off, the fifth year outside hitter is one to watch.
Epitomized by Trence’s efforts, the Gaels as a whole are quite a handful for opponents, as they entered postseason play with an OUA-leading 875 kills – 12.75 per set to rank second – on over 2,000 attacks. Their .266 hitting percentage also checks in at number two in the province, as does their average digs per set (10.85). It has been a high-octane season for the Gaels, and with the team looking to give East Division Coach of the Year Brenda Willis a winning send-off this season, the Kingston squad will be tough to stop come Friday.
Semifinal action takes to the court at 5:30pm on Friday, with the second match taking place at 8:00pm. The bronze medal match opens up play on Saturday at 5:30pm, before the Forsyth Cup final wraps up championship weekend at 8:00pm.