The Rams women’s volleyball team’s unbeaten season rolled on without a hitch, as they beat the Windsor Lancers in four sets at home on Saturday evening.
While the Lancers tried to go blow-for-blow with the Rams’ excellent offence, their efforts were outshone by the Rams’ deep, powerful roster and strong defensive contributions at the net.
The Rams began the first set with an 8-2 run that saw the Lancers flustered early. Strong serving and spikes from middle blocker Theanna Vernon, plus solid defence from Rams outside hitter Cailin Wark gave the Rams confidence early on.
The Rams then made another charge out of the gate, scoring 15 points early in the set. The Lancers clawed their way up to nine points before the technical time out at 16-9 in the first set. Once play resumed, the Lancers continued to eat away at the Rams’ early lead before Vernon came to their defensive rescue, blocking a spike to slow the Lancers’ momentum.
Vernon left the floor with the Rams leading 20-12. Her absence was felt almost immediately, as the Lancers added five points to their tally within minutes. Ultimately, the Rams’ offence proved too much for the Lancers to handle. They took the first set 25 to 17.
Vernon tagged back in to the second set, with great effect. The Rams began with a 7-1 run. After a pause in the game, the Rams resumed their demolition of the Lancers’ defence, scoring 16 points to just two from the Lancers, one of those points coming from an unforced Rams error.
A thunderous serve from outside hitter Jade Griffiths ended the second set 25-6.
The Rams started the third set slowly, conceding two early points to the Lancers. The Lancers lead 8-4 at the first break in play for the first time in the game. The Lancers continued racking up points, establishing a seven-point gap by the next mid-set pause. Once play resumed, the Rams fought back. Vernon and Wark were vigilant defenders at the net, setting the foundations for a run of play that would separate the Rams and Lancers by just three points, 20-17, at the next break in play. Despite their rally late in the third, the Rams dropped the set, 25-21.
The fourth set was hotly contested, but the Rams came out on top in the end, 25-23.
Head coach Dustin Reid said his team played well, but wasn’t satisfied with their performance in the third set.
“We just weren’t prepared, and the combination (of their motivation and our unpreparedness) allowed them to get back in the match,” said Reid. “We struggled in the third and fourth, to be blunt, but I’m happy with the way we executed in the fourth (to win the game).”
Reid could be heard screaming “execute” at match point in the fourth set over the din of the crowded gym. Despite the Rams’ struggles in the second half of the match, Reid said the team needed to experience adversity ahead of its playoff run.
“I’m glad we had to play in some tense moments, we haven’t had as many as we need (to be prepared for the playoffs), but I’m happy with the result,” said Reid. “If we’re measuring against what’s going to be necessary down the road, then I don’t think we can be satisfied.”
Despite the team’s win, Reid said they have to improve their mental game if they hope to do well in the playoffs.
“At times were weren’t focused, we didn’t control ball well enough on our sides,” said Reid. “We made 14 hitting errors on our side; that’s just not good enough, it’s not characteristic of us.
“You can’t beat a lot of teams when you do that.”
The Rams seemed to perform at their best with Vernon and Wark sharing the front court.
“Me and ‘T’ are really close,” Wark said. “I think the key is communication when we’re on the court together in terms of blocking and picking each other up, rooting for each other when we’re doing well.”
Wark said the team did well to deal with the Lancers’ late resurgence. She said head coach Reid’s training helped see them through the match.
“In practice, he tells us to be aggressive,” Wark said. “He’s never going to get mad if you’re too aggressive with the ball.”
The Rams’ win against the Lancers marks their 15th win straight in conference play this season. Each win sets a new consecutive win streak in the team’s history, having broken their season record for wins last month, with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The previous record for wins in a season was nine, set across two seasons in the 2013 calendar year.
Reid said his players should appreciate the level of play they’ve maintained throughout the season, but form resets once the payoffs begin.
“You don’t get any extra points for (being unbeaten),” Reid said. “We have to be focused on raising our level of play, so when we match up with the teams in the playoffs with the intensity at a new level, we’ll be prepared.”
With four games remaining in the season, Reid said they want to improve on their performance from last year, after they were eliminated from the Ontario University Athletics’ fourth-place playoff game last year by the Dalhousie Tigers.
“We want to do better than we did last year,” said Reid. “We want to win a semifinal and give ourselves a chance (to win a championship), but I think our focus is on the type of play that’s going to be needed against the teams in the playoffs.
“We’ve got four games left to work on that. If we were lose a game, but get to the level we need, then I think that would be better than making it to the playoffs while not playing out best.”
The Rams’ next game is Feb. 16, against the Royal Military College at the SAM Gymnasium in Kingston, Ont. First serve is at 6 p.m.