On March 10, The Varsity Blues men’s volleyball team defeated the York Lions 3–1 at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. As a result, the Blues won the bronze medal for this season in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA), while also securing qualification for the USPORTS Championship in Hamilton this weekend.
“The nationals is a goal for our whole team this whole year, so we just knew we had to come out here and get it done,” Blues hitter Mitchell Neuert said in a post-game interview with The Varsity.
The Blues beat the Lions twice earlier this season, but regardless, the implications of the bronze medal game weighed heavily on them. “The message in the team room between the guys was to play for each other… [and] show a lot of heart,” Neuert said. With so much on the line, the Blues certainly needed to perform with heart to win today.
The first set was tight with each side trading points. Neither side was able to claim anything other than a small, one-point lead. An attack error from Lions outside hitter Josh Fadare gave the Blues their biggest lead, at 11–7. Later in the set, a kill from York outside hitter Andrew Tauhid started a Lions run that saw them take a 19–18 lead and force a Blues timeout. Nevertheless, the Blues persevered, as a service ace from hitter Evan Falardeau followed by a York attack error delivered the first set 25–22 to the Blues.
The second set was similar to the first, with both sides trading points. A brilliant block from middle hitter Hayden Cavender gave the Blues their biggest lead of the set at 9–7, yet York responded with five unanswered points, including three more kills from Tauhid, to take a 12–9 lead.
Midway into the second set, back-to-back attack errors from outside hitter Dan Lafleur handed the momentum back to the Blues, giving them a one-point lead. Combined kills from Falardeau and Neuert gave the Blues a 21–18 lead, forcing a York timeout. Another dramatic kill from Falardeau placed the Blues at set point, and ultimately a service error from Tauhid gave the Blues the set 25–23.
York started the third set on top, with three more kills from Tauhid, giving them a 4–2 lead. Yet, a pair of kills from hitter Jayden Talsma helped the Blues recover and tie the game 5–5. The set remained tight, and a kill from Tauhid — his 22nd of the game — gave the Lions a 19–17 lead. Nevertheless, despite their best efforts, a powerful kill from Lions Josh Fadare ended the set 25–23, forcing a fourth set.
With the fourth set, the Blues took the first points for the first time in the game, yet neither side could maintain or extend their lead once again. Two kills from Falardeau helped the Blues take a 14–12 lead, though the Lions continued to cut into that lead. Eventually, a kill from Tauhid and Fadare, their respective 25th and 19th of the game, gave the Lions a small 17–16 lead and a timeout from the Blues. Soon, an attack error from Fadare gave the Blues their own one-point lead, at 22–21 and forced a Lions timeout. The set was destined for another close finish — the Blues were determined to end the game and the Lions were determined to force a fifth set. Ultimately, a powerful kill from Neuert ended the set 25–23 and secured victory for the Blues.
For the Blues, Neuert finished with a team high of 13 kills and 12 digs. On the other side, Tahuid and Fadare finished with 27 and 23 kills respectively.
The Blues’ OUA season has finished, but they will head to Hamilton on March 17 to participate in the men’s volleyball USPORTS Championship.
“We’re going to have a tough opponent,” Neuert said. “But, we’re going to be ready.”