Heading into the women's volleyball Ontario University Athletics final four this past weekend in Toronto, it was presumed by many that the Western Mustangs would meet the Toronto Varsity Blues in the OUA final on Saturday.
The Ryerson Rams, however, had a different plan in mind. The Rams were hungry for revenge after losing on their home court to the Mustangs in straight sets two weeks earlier. The desire and determination of the Rams showed from start to finish in their dominant straight set victory over the Mustangs in the OUA semifinal on Friday.
The Mustangs didn't see this coming and the look of disappointment was clear on their faces on Friday night at the Goldring Centre. But once the bronze medal match started against the McMaster Marauders on Saturday, it seemed it was a different Mustangs team than the one from the day before.
“Yesterday didn’t feel like an actual game so I feel like a lot of us kind of brushed it off,” said Mustang Kelsey Veltman in reference to how the team was able to bounce back.
The motivation for the Mustangs to prove the semifinal was a fluke presented itself right from the start of the match against the Marauders. Led by the dynamic offensive duo of Veltman and Aja Gyimah, the Mustangs crushed the Marauders in the first set by a score of 25-16.
Right from this first set, it was also evident that the Mustangs had extra motivation to finish the season with a victory over their rivals.
“We enjoy playing [McMaster] because we know every time we play them it’s going to be a good match and these girls are at a level that they want to be challenged,” explained Mustang head coach Melissa Bartlett.
This excitement was seen in the emotion and enthusiasm from both the Mustangs on the court and on the bench during this dominant victory in the first set.
“We were able to stay composed and focus on point by point and they struggled with us being really loud and hyped and that brought them down and gave us a bit of an advantage,” said Veltman.
After the excellent first set, however, the Mustangs began to struggle and were unable to answer the Marauders. McMaster knocked down the Mustangs in the second and third set to take a stranglehold on the match.
Despite the struggle in these two sets, the Mustangs were able to stay composed and did not let their emotions negatively affect their play. Veltman said a key role model for her throughout the last two seasons has been fifth-year veteran Serena Smith. Coach Barlett also spoke fondly of Smith.
“Serena’s going to go down as one of my favourite players I’ve ever coached,” said Bartlett. “[She is] truly the hardest worker I’ve ever coached. She’s such a great leader on and off the court and I think the team really rallied around her to support her.”
The calm mentality practiced by Smith was evident in the fourth and fifth sets when it looked like the Marauders might be able to put the Mustangs away. But in this moment, Smith stepped up big for the Mustangs in her final game in the purple and white. She was able to score some crucial offensive points for the Mustangs that helped them secure a 25-22 victory in the fourth set.
In the fifth and deciding set, the Mustangs lost their momentum from the end of the fourth set and again looked like they were going to be defeated by the Marauders. But the Mustangs stormed back at the end of the set behind the brilliant offensive play of Gyimah to win a nail-biting fifth set by a score of 15-13 to secure the OUA bronze medal.
The bronze medal game marks the end of the season for the Mustangs as they did not qualify for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport volleyball championship in Brandon, Man. However, moving forward into next season there is a lot of potential for this young Mustang volleyball team, as many of their key players will be back next year.