TORONTO - When things get hectic on the floor during a Ryerson Rams women’s volleyball game, libero Julie Longman (Newmarket, Ont.) is always there to ensure things stay relaxed. Although she never receives the attention that many of the team’s point scorers get, she shone for the Rams in their OUA quarter-final clash with the Guelph Gryphons at the Mattamy Athletic Centre Saturday afternoon.
The fourth year Child & Youth Care major refused to let the ball hit the floor, consistently extended rallies and was a big reason Ryerson came away with the 3-0 victory (25-23, 26-24, 25-20). By game’s end, she had racked up an unbelievable 23 digs for an average of 7.67 digs/set. To put that in perspective, she averaged 3.49 digs/set in the regular season to finish fifth in the OUA in that statistical category.
“When there’s a long rally, things start to get tense and the game speeds up,” she said with a smile following the contest. “And so, for me, what I say to myself is if the ball comes in my direction, (I have) to slow it down.”
With the many highlight reel plays that she made throughout the game, it was hard not to take notice of Longman’s performance in the Rams’ back row.
“She played a great game and it’s not new to see her play her best in the playoffs and when the chips are down,” said Ryerson’s head coach Dustin Reid. “She’s focused on what she needs to do and making big play after big play for her teammates. She played a fantastic game and the Guelph coach Paul Funk, a great coach, was quick to point out after the game that he felt she was the difference.”
She wasn’t the only one that had a big game on defence though. The Rams finished the match with 61 digs (an average of 20.33 digs/set) compared to Guelph’s 43. That’s quite the gutsy effort considering they finished the regular season with an average of 12.51 digs/set (13th in the OUA).
“I think we’ve always been known as an offensive team and we’ve counted on our offence and that’s what’s been able to win us those tough games,” said Longman. “When it comes down to it, it’s just our desire and grit to keep the ball off the floor… Everyone stepped up on defence. So, it was really cool to be out there.”
In the first meeting ever between the two sides in OUA playoff action, neither team was able to get any separation from the other in the opening set. Up 16-14 at the technical timeout, Ryerson was able to string a few points together. They found themselves up 21-16 following a kill and service ace by Theanna Vernon (Scarborough, Ont.) before the Gryphons came back to life.
Guelph scored the next six points to take a 22-21 edge. The Rams got back on track down the stretch though. Tied at 23, kills by Lauren Veltman (Brampton, Ont.) and Veronica Livingston (Kelowna, B.C.) gave Ryerson the 25-23 victory.
Looking to even things up, the Gryphons came out firing in the second set. A Victoria Golebiowski service ace sent Guelph to the technical timeout up 16-12. Ryerson battled back though. The Rams’ Kate McIlmoyle (London, Ont.) continued to distribute the ball well and allowed a variety of attackers to score for Ryerson. Knotted up at 24, a couple of Rams’ rookie came through. Clutch swats by Cailin Wark (Georgetown, Ont.) and Veltman gave Ryerson the 26-24 victory in the set and a 2-0 lead overall.
“I felt that when our setter Kate got Cailin involved in the game late in the first set and throughout the second and third, that was huge for our offence,” said Reid. “That allowed us to keep our offence balanced and not rely on one player too much. And Lauren, like she has all season, was a real workhorse on the court. When she gets her opportunities, she scores.”
It was more of the same in the third set. Back-and-forth from beginning, the Rams found themselves up 21-20 before turning it on. Kills by Veltman and Kristine Yan (Markham, Ont.) put Ryerson up three. From there, an enormous block by Veltman and McIlmoyle set the stage for another kill by Yan down the left side to seal the 25-20 win and the game.
“Playing the OUA quarterfinal against a really disciplined, tough, scrappy team was a really good test for us,” said Reid. “We were really nervous, but I thought at the key moments we played great. We stuck together, worked well together and kept a lot of rallies alive.”
Livingston led all attackers with 15 kills while Wark added ten and Veltman nine. McIlmoyle, meanwhile, picked up 43 assists in the first OUA postseason start of her career.
Golebiowski led the Gryphons with 11 kills while Maddie Dedecker added six in the losing effort.
The victory sends the Rams to the OUA Final Four hosted by the University of Toronto next weekend where they’ll attempt to improve upon last season’s appearance in the OUA Final.
“We’re going to be playing some top flight competition, the toughest in our conference,” said Reid. “We need to go on the court and be assertive.”
Ryerson will face the McMaster Marauders in one of two OUA semifinal matches on Friday, March 10th at the Goldring Centre. The University of Toronto Varsity Blues meet the Western Mustangs in the other. Game times have yet to be determined.
NOTES: The Rams improve to 5-0 at home against Guelph in their last five regular season and playoff meetings combined… It’s the second straight year that Ryerson has swept their opposition in the OUA quarterfinals on home court. They knocked off the Queen’s Gaels in straight sets last year… With her 15 kill performance, Livingston has hit yet another incredible milestone as a Ram. She now has 1100 career kills in a Ryerson jersey (1029 in regular season action and 71 in playoffs).