Volleyball powerhouses set to complete season series in potential finals preview

Photos by Martin Bazyl / Ryerson Rams
Photos by Martin Bazyl / Ryerson Rams

BURLINGTON, Ont. – For the second time this season, the OUA will be treated to a top-tier matchup between two of the premier women’s volleyball teams the province has to offer, as the Toronto Varsity Blues will make the short trip to Mattamy Athletic Centre to battle top-seeded Ryerson on January 13.

It was less than two months ago that these two teams first did battle this season and not long ago still that they went toe-to-toe for bronze at last year’s OUA championships. While it was the Varsity Blues who came away with the third place finish in 2016-17 after four hard-fought sets (25-19, 25-23, 19-25, 25-23), the Rams have since doled out a loss to their fellow GTA combatants, defeating U of T in four sets (21-25, 26-24, 25-20, 25-16) this past November.

The difference in their first regular season match came in the fourth and final set, when the Rams ratcheted up their hitting performance to the tune of a .483 success rate, compared to an average of .138 over the first three. The latter set is certainly more indicative of their typical performance, as the Rams lead the OUA in hitting percentage on the year (.289) and have used that success to overpower their competition over their first eight matches.

During this stretch, the Rams have managed to maintain an imposing presence at the net, something that has given teams fits both offensively and defensively. Ryerson’s success hitting the ball has translated into them also ranking first in kills per set (12.45), led by outside hitters Janelle Albert and Lauren Veltman – both of whom rank in the top five in the OUA – but their offensive prowess doesn’t stop there.

Their precision setting, anchored by the trio of Kate McIlmoyle, Alicia Lam, and Mady Timpany, has kept the Rams atop the conference in assists per set (11.58), while the imposing OUA All-Star Theanna Vernon has stood tall at the net, anchoring the team’s blocking with her 1.17 per set – good for second in the OUA. When you put it all together, it’s no surprise that the nationally-ranked Rams have reeled off eight consecutive wins, which included a winning streak of 15 straight sets.  

Spearheading the charge for a talented Toronto team, meanwhile, is Alina Dormann, the two-time reigning OUA East Player of the Year. Dormann’s play has remained on point this season, especially in the hitting game, as she ranks far and away the top threat in kills per set for the OUA. Her 4.19 mark is nearly one full kill above Albert’s 3.42, which means that the Rams will need to be well aware of her presence on the court. Beyond Dormann, the Varsity Blues as a whole sit third in the conference with respect to kills per set, checking in at 11.54.

Helping U of T remain so potent in their hitting is their ability to set up points. They are one of the best when it comes to keeping points alive – something that should play a factor against Ryerson’s heavy hitters – thanks in large part to their nearly 16 digs per set. Anna Feore and Sophia Currier settle in for nearly six combined, while the similarly strong ability from Dorman, Angelica Hovanessian, and Emma Armstrong also contribute to this defensive dynamism. Once the ball is passed up, however, it is Hovanessian’s OUA-leading 9.62 assists per set that really help set up the point for success.

While it was All-Stars Vernon and Dormann that shone brightly, among others, in their previous meeting, both sides will need an entire team effort to come away with the victory. Ryerson may be undefeated this season, but the Varsity Blues will be ready and waiting to hand the Rams their first loss. No matter who comes out on top, however, both teams will have victory on their minds come Saturday in what may prove to be a preview of this season’s OUA finale.

Making Saturday night extra special is that the marquee matchup will be played in front of over 400 up and coming volleyball players as part of Ontario Volleyball Association (OVA) Night. Any OVA teams will receive complimentary tickets if they register at the following link: http://bit.ly/2qTKQTT

Fans can catch all the action on OUA.tv, or can see it unfold live at Mattamy Athletic Centre on January 13 at 6:00pm.