The fun is just beginning for women’s volleyball After a thrilling five set win in the OUA final, the McMaster women's volleyball team advances to the U Sports national championship

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For the third time in school history, the McMaster women’s volleyball team are the champions of Ontario. This win may stand above the rest.

Mac put together an all-time performance, beating the Western University Mustangs 3-2 for their first Ontario University Athletics banner since 2014.

“There are a lot of emotions right now,” head coach Tim Louks said after the win. “Relief for sure. I think we treated everyone to something special tonight.”

The championship match had everyone in the Goldring Centre at the University of Toronto on the edge of their seats. Mac was able to closed out the fifth set in dramatic fashion. Having won the first two sets before dropping the last two, the Marauders won the match by putting together a three-point run, capping the win with an emphatic double block.

“It feels surreal,” said fifth-year outside hitter Rebecca Steckle. “We wanted it, and when you’re up two sets, you know that it just gets harder. Going into the fifth [set], we knew we had to play our best. It feels like the best thing, finishing off fifth year coming back and wanting it so bad and then getting it after a crazy match.”

March 11: rivalry renewed 

The intensity both teams brought into the game was on display from the very beginning. For every kill the Marauders scored, the Mustangs countered with a block. For every run Mac went on, Western was able to claw back. Every set was competitive, with all but the second being decided by two points.

The Marauders hit the ground running in both of the first two sets, grabbing early leads to force Western timeouts. The Mustangs would rally, but Mac was in the driver’s seat, winning a 2-0 lead with a 28-26 and 25-18 wins in the first and second sets respectively.

“After those two sets at the beginning that we won, we were feeling confident,” said Jedrzejewska.

The third set brought in two major adjustments that would be crucial to the Mustang comeback. OUA West Rookie of the Year and outside hitter Melissa Langegger was largely replaced by middle Danielle Grasman and Veltman moved to the outside-hitter position.

Despite the moves, Mac held an early 16-10 advantage. Western found a new defensive gear following the technical, frustrating Mac hitters with blocks and digs. After trading points and some long rallies, Western managed to break free and win the set 27-25.

The fourth set saw the intensity hit a new level. Aleks Arsovic received a red card following a verbal altercation, and Mac struggled to pull away. Western closed out the ugly, error-ridden set 25-23, teeing up a fifth set for the OUA championship.

“When we have a lead, we have to get better at keeping that lead,” fourth-year middle Maicee Sorensen said. “Throughout this whole game, it felt like in every set where were up. Right at the time of the technical timeout, Western had either caught up or caught up right after the technical [timeout]. We have a really strong start, but we need to figure out how to finish that off.”

The final showdown

The final set of the OUA championship final was about as close as it could get. With both teams running on pure adrenaline at this point, it wasn’t until after the teams switched sides where Mac was able to create a larger lead. A crucial block by Mac’s Alicia Jack onto Veltman drew a timeout from the Mustangs, with the score 12-8 in Mac’s favor. With the score at 13-10, Jedrzejewska came up huge with a signature ace to bring Mac within one point of winning OUA gold.

Western faced a 13-10 deficit, but they rallied on the back of unforced Marauder errors to capture a 15-14 advantage. Backs against the wall, the Marauders pulled together instead of falling apart.

“I kept saying every time they got a point, I was fine, one more point, one more point,” Jedrzejewska said. “But the moment they had that point lead, it was a moment where you kind of doubt it, but you know that if you do doubt it, then you let them win. You have already defeated yourself, which is their goal. I was a little on the edge but I knew we were going to get it in the end. We’re strong out there, and we didn’t let them get to our heads.”

In that last point where Western took the lead, the Marauders suffered a heavy blow with rookie middle Kamila Haase, who had replaced Jack midway through the fifth set, going down with an apparent knee injury after going up for an attempted block.

The extra time in between points because of the unfortunate injury may have disrupted the Mustang momentum. With the game on the line and the ball in the hands of the OUA West Player of the Year, Veltman mishit the ball out of bounds, evening the score and giving the Marauders back the ball. It was the fourth serving error made by Veltman all night, and the biggest of 12 total serving errors made by the Mustangs throughout the match.

With Alicia Jack set to serve, all eyes were on the duo of Veltman and setter Tsiofas. Thanks to great blocking from Steckle, the Mustangs made yet another unforced error, and had the Marauders up 16-15, with a fifth chance of winning the match. Rather than going to Veltman on the pass, Tsiofas opted instead to go to outside hitter Aja Gyimah, who up to that point had registered 16 kills in the match.

But she could not come up with number 17, as both Sorensen and Arsovic soared to the net for the block. The Mustangs, who were outstanding at extending points throughout the match, had no chance to recover. The ball found its way to the floor, and McMaster found themselves OUA champions.

“I felt very proud after that fifth set,” Jedrzejewska said. “We had a lot of character coming from on and off the bench, so it’s good that everyone contributed. We were pushed to the brink and we kept out character. All year we struggled with finishing off games, and even when we struggled towards the end, we pushed through. I’m proud that we didn’t let them get to our heads. I’m exhausted, but happy that we got the win.”

The Marauders look ahead to the U Sports national championship as the second seed. Ryerson is hosting the tournament and Mac plays Trinity Western University in the quarterfinal on March 17 at noon.

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