TORONTO - On the backs of veterans Lucas Coleman, Adam Anagnostopoulos, and Will Otten, the Ryerson Rams men’s volleyball team accomplished the unimaginable and battled out of an 0-2 hole to defeat the Western Mustangs 3-2 (17-25, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22, 18-16) for a seat at the OUA Final Four table in Hamilton, Ont next weekend.
In front of an exuberant home crowd at Coca-Cola Court, the Rams managed to find hope while faced with what seemed like an impossible task.
The veteran Mustangs coaching staff in Jim Sage and Rob Atkinson had prepared a group of determined individuals poised to inflict damage while on the road. The Mustangs dominated the opening two sets 25-17 and 25-22, and plunged the Rams into a two sets to none hole that seemed nearly impossible for them to dig out of.
The Mustangs’ Chris Newcombe and Zeid Hamadeh combined for six kills in the opening set and shutdown the Rams’ Coleman on multiple occasions with the block. The Mustangs flourished with a 47% hitting efficiency through set one, while the Rams looked out of sorts striking just 3% from the floor.
A game-high nine errors in the first set established the tone for more struggles from the Rams in the second. The Rams put forth a more complete effort to start the second frame, but trailed yet again 16-11 as they entered the tech timeout. The Mustangs looked hungrier, their play signified they wanted it more, and thanks to timely kills from the likes of Newcombe and Hamadeh once more, the Mustangs strutted to the third set in stunning fashion with a two sets to none lead over the Rams.
“It was a classic case of being a little tight. We were a little nervous and the opposing team came in really loose, and they were aggressive at the start,” said coach Matt Harris following the drama filled match. “But as the game went on some of our top guys got the touch back. Brendan Kewin, Lucas Coleman, Adam Anagnostopoulos, and Uchenna Ofoha really got us in there.”
With the Rams trailing once again 16-13 at the tech timeout, the group of seasoned OUA veterans huddled for what seemed to just prolong a disastrous inevitability.
But something changed. A switch turned and Dr. Jekyll became Mr. Hyde. Coleman and Kewin both smacked down two kills each and tied the game at 18-18. Back-to-back service errors by the Mustangs gave the Rams a 20-18 lead, but when everything started to feel right, the Rams once again faltered. A service error by the Rams and a kill from the likes of the Mustangs’ Hamadeh evened the score at 20. But from that moment onward, the Rams proved that the senseless games were over.
A string a five-straight points started on the behalf of Otten’s back-to-back kills led the Rams to a 25-20 third set victory and marked the beginning of a truly remarkable comeback.
The Rams looked like a well-oiled machine to start the fourth and clicked on all cylinders with the transition attack. Anagnostopoulos was stellar on the transition for a number of inside-out set-up attacks. Kewin and Ofoha struggled out of the game's gate but heated up in the fourth for powerful kills.
Now 20-19 in the fourth for the Rams, a trio of kills from Kewin, Coleman, and Mattias Peters had built the Rams a lead of three. It came down to the wire, but a locked down defense and a set clinching kill from Anagnostopoulos gave the Rams a 25-22 fourth set win, and forced an all-decisive fifth set in this OUA Quarter-Final.
Big moments are often made for big players, and those big players often seize the big moments. Rams veteran Coleman is not just a big player, he is a huge player, and played the set of his life in order to give the Rams the opportunity to fight another day.
The Rams and Mustangs traded points throughout the fifth set. When one team looked in control, the other established a timely dominance.
Ofoha, Anagnostopooulos and Coleman opened the set with three straight kills for a commanding 5-1 lead to start the fifth. Errors become an issue for the Rams however, as untimely sloppiness allowed the Mustangs back into the mix of things with the score 8-8.
A series of attack errors from Coleman looked to have finally thrown the Rams into a corner they couldn’t possibly maneuver from. Down 14-11, Coleman hit the serving line with the opposition at match point. A serve into the net would have ended the Rams’ season. The ball went over, and the Rams united for a frenzy finish.
Ofoha and Otten combined for three straight kills to tie the game at 14-14. Coleman smashed a service ace to the floor for the 15-14 lead. The Rams and Mustangs traded points for a thrilling 16-16 deadlock, but a Coleman kill, his sixth of the set, gave the Rams a 17-16 advantage to set the table for victory.
Peters, the Rams’ sophomore, went up for a contested ball at the net and forced it to drop. The Rams had eliminated the Mustangs with an 18-16 fifth set victory and advanced to the OUA semifinals.
“It’s been a battle all year and to be in a battle near the end like that this season, we were ready for it, and we worked hard all year,” said Harris. “We had a team coming in here that we beat last year in the same game. We knew how hard they were going to come in and it was just a testament on how much these guys have come together all year, just to be able to come through in a big moment like that.”
The key veterans that were heavily counted on for success ahead of Saturday’s match with Mustangs took a while to warm up in the slow started victory. But the Rams would have never been able to get out of the funk they were in if it weren’t for those select few stepping up, and the unforeseen play of those who found themselves with increased responsibility.
“Ofoha and Kewin were fighting it all game, but you could tell how loose and calm they were at the end,” said Harris. “And Otten, Adam and Coleman… I don’t know how many times I’ve been in games like that with those guys. Whether it’s with Team Ontario or here at Ryerson, they’re just comfortable in those moments.”
The pressure was undoubtedly on the backs of those who could handle it. The Rams’ veterans found themselves in monumental situations throughout Saturday’s comeback win, but made good on most of those crucial opportunities.
“Lucas is serving at match point for the other team and he felt some freedom. Adam is able to move the ball around in transition in tight points. Will comes up with a key big tactical save there at the end, and, you know, I would have any of those three guys on any team if I had to do that all over again.”
Coleman finished the game with an absurd 30 kills over the five sets, while Ofoha and Kewin finished with eleven and nine kills respectively. Anagnostopoulos had a stellar game as well with 60 assists at games end.
The Rams will now face the undefeated McMaster Marauders in OUA Semifinal action next weekend in what will be a tough elimination game. A win against the Marauders would earn a berth at nationals.