With a convincing 3–1 set win over the Queen’s Gaels on Saturday, the Western Mustangs women’s volleyball team is one step closer to the Quigley Cup. The Mustangs haven’t won an Ontario University Athletics championship since the 2010–11 season, but they're feeling optimistic about their chances going into the semifinals.
“We’ve got players that know how to play in a climatic environment,” said Mustangs head coach Melissa Bartlett. “We have the experience of being so close to winning the championship last year that is totally motivating.”
Third-year outside hitter and middle, Kelsey Veltman, led the game with 19 kills and provided momentum for the Mustangs after their slow starts during the first and second sets. Fourth-year libero, Courtney Sestric, had 27 digs in total, and her performance benefited the Mustangs' defensive game tremendously, particularly during the third and fourth sets.
Second-year middle, Danielle Grasman, suffered an ankle injury midway through the second set and did not return for the rest of the game.
“The injury really shut everybody’s psyche down,” said sophomore middle, Kate Ferguson. “I was a bit nervous. It rattled our game plan, and we had to come back with our energy high into the fourth set.”
There is currently no update on how serious Grasman’s injury is, or whether she will return for the rest of the playoffs. She will see a doctor on March 5.
The Gaels had no answers for Veltman’s offensive versatility in the first set. The Mustangs gave themselves a head start in a tightly contested first two sets 25–23 and 26–24, but the Gaels took the momentum back with a lopsided 25–16 win in the third. Queen’s outside hitters, Julia Wiercigroch and Shannon Neville, combined for 24 kills and proved to be formidable forces offensively, throwing the Mustangs off-guard.
“They made a great adjustment and spun their lineup so that our matchups were very different,” noted Bartlett about the Gaels’ offensive barrage in the third set. “Previously, we had Kelsey hitting against their setter, but they switched that around completely, and we just didn’t respond fast enough.”
The Mustangs made necessary changes with Ferguson replacing Grasman in the lineup, resulting in their best defensive performance of the game. With their passing, serving and hitting far more polished, the Mustangs dominated the fourth set with a score of 25–18.
“It was really big that our adjustments came at the right time, especially in that fourth set,” said Mustangs setter, Jessica Lam, who had game-high 37 assists. “It took the third set to learn their tendencies with their new lineup and system.”
Even with the possibility of being short-handed without Grasman, the Mustangs only seem to be more invigorated after their quarter-final victory as the OUA women’s volleyball season narrows down to four teams with the Quigley Cup up for grabs.
The Mustangs will play their semifinal matchup against the Ryerson Rams, who went 19–0 in the regular season. The game is scheduled for March 9 at 6 p.m. in Toronto.