Upstart Warriors, reigning champion Rams headline final four field battling for banner season glory

Upstart Warriors, reigning champion Rams headline final four field battling for banner season glory

Waterloo, Ont. – The top two teams in each division punched their ticket to the conference finale after making quick work of their quarterfinal foes, but with a loaded lineup ready to hit the court for the Quigley Cup Final Four in Waterloo, the outcomes are anything but guaranteed this time around. The upstart Waterloo Warriors will play host to the banner season festivities, and they’ll welcome the likes of the Toronto Varsity Blues, Western Mustangs, and reigning national champion Ryerson Rams to the 2019 edition of the OUA women’s volleyball championship.

They took the conference – and country – by storm a year ago, and after turning their undefeated season into Ryerson’s first national banner in school history, the Rams are back as the conference’s top seed. With a largely similar roster to that of their magical 2017-18 run, the East Division powerhouse will hope history repeats itself when they take the next step to replicate those results, and for Ryerson, they’ll embark on their quest for the Quigley Cup with the division’s top player leading the way.

Theanna Vernon (Scarborough, Ont.) was a force in the middle for Ryerson a year ago, and her status has been cemented once again with a Player of the Year selection in her fifth year. She was as efficient and effective as they come this season, checking in well above the pack with a .410 hitting percentage, en route to nearly 3.0 kills per set. Similarly, her dominance continued to the other side of the ball with an OUA-leading 1.56 blocks per game – more than 0.5 above her closest competitor. With a player of Vernon’s quality anchoring the team from the middle, it’s easy to understand why Ryerson earned their first No. 1 national rank in program history this season.

The senior doesn’t do it alone; however, and she’ll be surrounded by another three all-stars when they open their Quigley Cup against the Western Mustangs. Flanking Vernon on the first team is Lauren Veltman (Brampton, Ont.), who will once again go toe-to-toe with her sister on the semifinal stage, along with second-teamers Brett Hagarty (Aurora, Ont.) and Cailin Wark (Georgetown, Ont.). This trio has also contributed toward the Rams’ leading marks in kills per set (12.36), hitting percentage (.280), assists per set (11.41), and points per set (16.9) this season, which should make the collective group one of the leading contenders for a second-straight Quigley Cup title.

While it was Ryerson that stormed out of the gates on their way to championship success a year ago, it was the Waterloo Warriors that set the pace for much of this season in a coming out year of their own. After finishing with eight wins in 2017-18, the Warriors matched the Rams with 17 victories this year to pace the conference and were a mainstay among the nation’s top-10 all year long. With an all-star laden lineup, complete with one of the conference’s best setters, hitters, and young talents, the sky is the limit for the championship hosts as they look to capture their first title in program history.

When looking at their roster, much of the conversation starts with Claire Mackenzie (Vancouver, B.C.) and Sarah Glynn (Fredericton, NB), whose 3.37 and 3.34 kills per set, respectively, along with their matching 3.9 point-per-set averages, were key contributors to the team’s top five offensive ranks. The dynamic duo gives the black and gold multiple points of attack, which they turned into team totals of 11.79 kills per set and a .219 hitting percentage, and whether it is the veteran Mackenzie or the West Division’s top rookie Glynn putting their emphatic swing to productive use, it was setter Claire Gagne (Cambridge, Ont.) who made sure both shone on the biggest of stages. Gagne ranks fifth with 8.74 assists per set, while also collecting 0.53 service aces per set (2nd in OUA,) and has been a big reason why the Warriors are among the biggest threats to hoist the Quigley Cup in front of their home fans.

If the Warriors want the chance to play for gold, they’ll need to first take on a team that is very familiar with what it takes to topple the conference’s elite – the Toronto Varsity Blues. A powerhouse program in many respects, the Blues turned in another solid season, which they recently capped off with a quarterfinal win over the Brock Badgers to reach their eighth straight Final Four. Experience will definitely be on the side of Toronto, but after Waterloo earned the 3-1 edge in their regular season meeting, each side will surely have victory on their minds in the semifinal showdown.

Once again headlining the Varsity Blues is Alina Dormann (Ottawa, Ont.), as the program’s career points leader has been her usual self on the outside. The now four-time all-star picked up outstanding an average of 4.6 points per set – second in the conference – thanks in large part to her 3.91 kills per set and .292 hitting percentage. The senior reached double-digit points in all but three matches this season, including a season-high 23 kills and 26 points in a 3-1 victory at Ryerson in February; something the Blues will hope she can repeat should the two teams cross paths in the gold medal match.

Alongside Dormann is another flurry of all-stars, including Anna Feore (Stratford, Ont.), Anna Licht (Toronto, Ont.), and Jenna Woock (Richmond Hill, Ont.). The trio are among the best in the business year in and year out, and while all three secured at least two points per set for the Blues this season, they are also leading contributors to the team’s overall efforts in digs, service aces, and blocks, respectively. After winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 15, the Blues have yet to repeat those lofty results, but with a core group that is now another year older and another year wiser, they will be a fierce competitor for anyone eyeing a championship.

Rounding out the quartet is another of last year’s final competitors – the Western Mustangs – who will aim for a change of fortunes when they reprise their semifinal encounter with Ryerson. The Rams got the best of the purple ponies last year with a four-set victory, but backed by their own Veltman sister – the aforementioned Kelsey Veltman (Brampton, Ont.) – the Mustangs will be swinging for the fences to go at least one step further in 2019. And with such a potent performer at the forefront, they have the potential to do just that.

Veltman is among the league leaders in kills per set (3.58; 3rd in OUA), total kills (261; 2nd in OUA), hitting percentage (.344; 2nd in OUA), and blocks per set (0.88; T5th in OUA). The first-team all-star has showed time and time again that she can lead her team to great things and the senior will be looking to add another great thing to that list when they take to the court in Waterloo.

While Veltman’s efforts have certainly sparked success offensively, one of the key areas she has helped Western thrive in most is defensively, with top-three marks in the blocking game. The ‘Stangs have found similar success in service aces (170; 2nd in OUA), thanks in large part to the 0.54 per set from Leah Mousseau (Ottawa, Ont.), but their contributors don’t stop there. Melissa Langegger (Oakville, Ont.; 3.2 PTS/S) has led the second wave of potent production, highlighting a trio that has poured in a combined 8.1 points per set; making the purple and white that much more dangerous come game time.  

Whether teams are returning to the Final Four festivities or are joining the ranks for the first time in a decade, the quality of competition will be on full display. Each squad will go in with the mentality that they can capture this year’s Quigley Cup, but when the dust settles on the two-day competition, only one team will be able to turn those aspirations into a championship reality.

Fans can catch all the action LIVE on oua.tv with the semifinals taking place on Friday, March 8, with the hometown Waterloo Warriors battle the Toronto Varsity Blues at 6:00pm and the reigning champion Ryerson Rams taking on the Western Mustangs at 8:30pm. The vanquished will then proceed to the bronze medal game on Saturday, Match 9 at 3:00pm, while the victors will battle for Quigley Cup gold at 6:00pm at the University of Waterloo PAC.