Kingston, Ont. (Queen’s Gaels) – The Queen’s Gaels are the 2018-19 OUA men’s volleyball champions for the first time since 2011, topping the McMaster Marauders in front of 1,441 fans in five thrilling sets. The Gaels victory in Kingston put an end to McMaster’s streak of six consecutive OUA banners.
Riding the energy of the home crowd, the Gaels had a hot start in their bid to claim the top spot in the OUA. Gaels first-team All-Star Zac Hutcheson picked up a few big kills to put Queen’s ahead 16-10 at the technical timeout. McMaster couldn’t make up any ground as the set progressed, as Adam Boljkovac ended the set 25-19 with a kill from the back row for the Gaels.
The reigning OUA Champion Marauders weren’t about to roll over, keeping it close to start the second set surging ahead to hold a six-point lead at the technical timeout. After the break, McMaster’s Matt Passalent put a Queen’s over-bump into the floor as the Marauders cruised to a 25-19 win to even the match.
The Gaels responded early in the third set, starting on a 5-0 run that included a big block from Hutcheson and a pancake dig from libero Lukas Kaufman. Queen’s maintained a solid cushion at the technical timeout, ahead 16-11 after Hutcheson’s roll shot found the floor. That’s when Passalent and the Marauders mounted a comeback, tying the set at 19-19. One of Passalent’s 22 kills, an ace from McMaster’s David Doty, and a couple Gaels missed serves gave the Marauders a 25-23 win to lead 2-1 in the match.
The fourth set was all Queen’s, as the hosts reignited the crowd with a kill from Dylan Hunt to go ahead 3-1. Boljkovac played a bigger role as the match went on, going down the line multiple times to the delight of the fans. Before McMaster could get back in the set, Mitchell Neuert checked into the game to serve for the Gaels, recording an ace straight off the bench and helping Queen’s open up a 22-14 lead. Joel Rudd stepped up for a couple big points to win it 25-16 and force a fifth set.
The top two teams in the league this year needed every point of the fifth set to determine OUA supremacy, with the Gaels putting the first points on the board in the tie-breaker. Hutcheson, Boljkovac, and Rudd continued the Gaels three-pronged attack, rattling off a few quick kills as Queen’s took a 5-3 lead. On a long rally, highlighted by a dig from Kaufman and finished off by a Gaels triple block, McMaster’s Passalent went down injured, ending his day with Queen’s ahead 6-4. After the Gaels got to the technical timeout up 8-7, the Marauders forced Queen’s to make a couple errors, taking their first lead of the set at 9-8. After tying it back up in the late stages of the match, a Hunt kill from the middle gave the Gaels back the lead before Rudd had the final say, crushing one last ball to win the championship for Queen’s 15-13.
First-year head coach, Gabriel DeGroot, expressed the excitement of the win. “Wow. This is incredible. I don’t know if I pictured it happening this way in this place with so many people and definitely not in my first year here. The team was absolutely amazing, what a band of brothers. They came together right from the beginning of this year and they really believed in everything that was laid out in the plan for them and they stuck with it right until the end so all the credit to them.”
Both the Queen’s Gaels and McMaster Marauders will now advance to the U SPORTS men’s volleyball national championship hosted by the Laval Rouge et Or next week.