Hamilton, ON- When it comes the consolation semi-finals of the U SPORTS men’s volleyball nationals, it’s an opportunity for teams to redeem themselves from their quarterfinals loss. It’s an opportunity to earn the chance to play one more game.
The Toronto Varsity Blues and the Montreal Carabins did just that on Mar. 18 to set up the consolation finals.
Varsity Blues Earn Redemption from Last Year’s Nationals
Just two weeks earlier, the Varsity Blues lost to the Windsor Lancers on the road in the OUA semi-finals. Now, they’ve flipped the script with a three-set victory at nationals (28-26, 25-23, 25-17, 25-12).
They were spearheaded by their two seniors: Evan Falardeau and Mitchell Neuert. Falardeau had 18.0 points, eight digs and 16 kills while Neuert had 27.0 points, 11 digs and 24 kills.
Neuert looked in the mirror in the morning and realized it might be the last game of his career. “I might as well go out and have fun and just hit the ball,” he said.
In his second straight nationals, he and his teammates learned from it. They won a game this time around after losing two straight last year. Toronto head coach John Barrett said they have more awareness of how to prepare – including the emotional aspect. They also grew as the players committed to improving
Falardeau recalls having an empty feeling after their last nationals showing. He looked in the mirror and asked himself: “What do I want out of the sport?”
They responded through the summer, playing a lot of volleyball on the court and getting closer as a team off it. Getting in the weight room as well.
That improvement was evident this year. They pushed the Alberta Golden Bears in the quarterfinals – winning the first set and keeping it close throughout – before defeating the Lancers. Barrett saw a group confidence and determination take over.
“Before every match, you get a gut feeling as a coach of how is this going to look,” he said. “I didn’t see any real letdown across the whole roster. Everyone looked dialed in and I think they’re having fun.”
In terms of fun, that’s what Neuert said the consolation finals will be. It will be Falardeau and his final U SPORTS game. “I’m gonna revel in it,” he noted.
As part of the team’s core, the seniors have made their impact not just with their performances on the court but also their role as mentors and leaders. The returning players will have to do the same. “I think it’s crucial to show young players,” Barrett said. “Show them who we are and what we do.”
As Falardeau pondered in the moments after the game, he admitted the thought of his final game hadn’t entered his mind yet. When he does though, the friendships made come to mind.
“The volleyball is what it is,” he said. “But I think all the guys on the team that I’m friends with is more kind of what I care about than the actual sport itself.”
Carabins Secure Comeback Victory over Huskies and Prove Themselves
While the Varsity Blues were making their second straight appearance at nationals, this was the Carabins first for their group. They missed out last season.
They earned their spot in the consolation finals with a victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies in a five-set thriller. Montreal won the first set 25-15 before dropping the next two. They rebounded to edge Saskatchewan 27-25 in the fourth set – facing match point on two occasions – before winning the final set 15-8.
Carabins Setter Maxime St. Denis called them a balanced team with a balanced offence. A scrappy team with a defensive identity as well.
“We try to fight on every point,” he noted. “If the ball isn’t perfect, it maybe is not to score right away but it’s to keep the ball in play and make the opponent make mistakes.”
His teammate Julien Boileau mentioned the play of libero and RSEQ MVP Yassine Kassis – who had a game-high 17 digs.
Playing against Saskatchewan against meant a chance to prove themselves against a Canada West team. “We have proved that we can beat some teams in the west,” head coach Ghazi Guidara said. He talked about how the RSEQ has good teams, good matches and good players.
Boileau talked about how the experience is beneficial for the younger players. They’re seeing the intensity and want to be part of it, according to him. “It’s a huge driving force for the next players who eventually will replace me and keep playing for the next few years,” he added.
The Carabins will have another chance to prove themselves in another inter-conference matchup against the Varsity Blues in the consolation finals.
Featured Image: Michael P. Hall/University of Toronto Athletics/U SPORTS