The Western Mustangs women's volleyball team travelled to Waterloo this weekend for the 2019 Ontario University Athletics Final Four, looking for their first provincial title since 2011.
However, the Mustangs fell short, losing to the Ryerson Rams in their semifinal match before missing out on a bronze medal with a loss to the hometown Waterloo Warriors.
The Mustangs lost to the Rams in four sets, marking their second OUA semifinal loss to Ryerson in as many years. The 3–1 defeat came despite strong performances from a number of Mustangs, including fifth-year middle Kelsey Veltman, rookie Brooklyn Bere and third-year middle and right side Kristina Curcin.
Veltman recorded a game-high 18 points in the semifinal loss, while Bere added 29 assists and six digs and Curcin tallied seven kills.
The Mustangs struggled to counter Ryerson's momentum early in the opening set, as they fell behind thanks largely to the Rams' strong play at the net. After 14 kills in the first frame, the Mustangs were unable to complete the comeback as they lost the first set 25–17.
The second set saw the Mustangs come out stronger before again falling behind as the Ryerson attack overwhelmed them. While the two teams battled closely for much of the frame, it was Ryerson that eventually closed out the frame with another win, again by a score of 25–17, to take a commanding 2–0 lead in the match heading into the third set.
Western stepped up its game in the third set to avoid the sweep and keep their season alive. Veltman took over the frame, and the Mustangs were able to sneak out a 25–21 victory to keep their championship hopes alive.
However, their dreams were dashed in the third set, as they fought neck-and-neck with the Rams before dropping the set 25–23. With the 3–1 loss, the Mustangs were eliminated from OUA championship contention and booked a ticket to the bronze medal match against the Warriors.
Veltman opened the bronze medal match firing on all cylinders once again, tallying 25 kills and 32 points in the final match of her illustrious university volleyball career. Third-year left side Melissa Langegger also had a strong showing in the loss with 13 kills and 11 digs. Third-year right side Carly Kimmett also contributed significantly with 12 digs.
"In the back of my head I always knew I could be playing in my last OUA game, so I really just played my heart out," said Veltman on her impressive performance against Waterloo. "I'm happy I got to finish my career knowing I left it all on the court."
The Mustangs played with a purpose at the outset of the first set, with Langegger leading her team to a narrow 25–23 win to take the opening frame.
The second set saw another back-and-forth affair between the two teams, until a series of unfortunate Mustang errors led to a 6–0 run for the Warriors, who ultimately took the set 25–19 to tie the match up at one set apiece.
Veltman led the Mustangs to an empathic performance in the third set, controlling the frame from start to finish to take the 2–1 lead with a 24–18 set victory.
The Warriors found their way in the fourth set, as the two teams battled and exchanged points until Waterloo took advantage of a number of Mustang errors to take the set 25–23 and force a fifth and final set.
The final set went Western's way at the start, as Veltman controlled the play and the Mustangs jumped out to the lead. But a 9–3 stretch by Waterloo gave the Warriors the 15–9 set victory and the OUA bronze medal.
According to Veltman, the season was a positive despite the difficult way it ended.
"Obviously with every loss comes some disappointment, and this weekend was a tough pill to swallow, but that's how sport works," said Veltman. "A run for the OUA title would have been amazing, but we were able to get this young team a Final Four experience and that's always important and something most teams don't get to experience."
With the loss the Mustangs, who finished in second in the OUA West during the regular season, miss out on an OUA medal for the first time since 2014. And they'll lose one of the greatest players in program history when Veltman leaves the program after five incredible seasons.
"Looking back, it really has been the best five years of my life," said Veltman. "The amount of amazing people I've had the privilege to play with and be coached by is a real blessing. I've learned so much about this sport and myself here and I wouldn't have changed a thing."