Western men’s volleyball will be taking on the Ryerson Rams in Toronto today in OUA quarterfinal action. The game will be a rematch of last year's quarterfinal, which saw the Rams eliminate the Mustangs in four sets.
“They're a different team from last year, three or four guys are holdovers from last year's team that was quite good,” said Mustangs head coach Jim Sage. “It'll be a challenge for us but we've had a good regular season and we're looking forward to it.”
The Mustangs finished third in the West, and went 11–6 on the season, an almost identical record to the Rams, who went 12–6 and finished second in the East. Both teams are evenly matched, with comparable stats. However, the Mustangs have the edge in terms of experience, with only a few of Ryerson’s players having solid playoff experience.
“They've got some guys on their side which really might be their first time in a playoff match or in that kind of environment,” said Mike Choja, a fifth-year middle. “I think we're going to use that as best to our advantage as we can.”
The Mustangs faced off against the Rams once before this season, coming away with a four-set victory in the first game of the season. However, this was back in October, and both teams have had plenty of time to develop and change over the regular season.
“It'll be a challenge but we've had a good regular season and we're looking forward to it,” said Sage.
The key to the Mustangs victory will be to keep it simple and stick to the basics. Ryerson has a strong, experienced setter, who does a good job of running the show. The Rams are strong offensively, and the Mustangs will have to focus on their block defense in order to counteract that.
“We're really not trying to reinvent the wheel, we really want to just, at this point it's just about fine tuning and tweaking a couple things,” said Choja. “I think their attacking will take care of itself as long as we're getting those little things done.”
Serve receive and serving will be crucial to the Mustangs, and to taking Ryerson out of their system and forcing errors. Ryerson has a strong serve, and the Mustangs will have to be willing to do the dirty plays in order to come out with the win. However, when it comes down to the game plan, the Mustangs aren’t planning on changing much from the regular season.
“Slowing down their servers on their end and being successful and taking their offense out of system with our serving is going to be really important this weekend.” Matt Hooker, a third-year setter, said.
Ryerson will have the home crowd advantage, which could prove to be a minor setback for the Mustangs. The Ryerson gym can get loud, and there could be a large crowd cheering against the Mustangs. However, it’s something that the team has faced before during the regular season, and the team is confident they can handle the added distraction.
“Alumni Hall would be a nice building to play at but these types of environments for these guys we're putting on the floor is not new,” said Choja. “I'm very confident in our ability to go in there and come out with a win.”
A win for the team would be huge. It’s the next step for a squad that hasn’t had a place in the final four in years, and the next step towards an OUA banner sometime in the near future.
“It's more about winning for this team, and being as successful as we can in this season,” said Hooker. “I've never been to the final four so I'm really looking forward to that opportunity, but right now I'm just really looking forward to this Saturday.”
Although the Mustangs have one less win than the Rams, it’s only because the Rams played one more game this season. The extra experience doesn’t worry Sage, as the Mustangs have been facing off against some of the top teams in the country all season long.
“I think we have a strong conference which will make us a better team and then we'll see how the playoffs unfold; it's a whole new season.”
The Mustangs will play in Toronto against the Rams on Saturday at 6 p.m.