TORONTO - Although they didn’t come away with the victory, the Ryerson Rams women’s volleyball team made a statement in their five set loss (25-22, 19-25, 22-25, 26-24, 12-15) to the No. 2 University of Toronto Varsity Blues at the Mattamy Athletic Centre Friday night. The defeat breaks the Rams’ five game winning streak and drops their record to 5-3. The Varsity Blues move to 6-0 to remain atop the OUA East division.

BOXSCORE
The victory extends the Varsity Blues’ current winning streak to 31 straight games (regular season and playoffs combined). During that stretch, this match was only the second time they’ve been pushed to five sets.

“There’s something about playing U of T and them having this crazy winning streak and being national champs (last season),” said Ryerson’s fifth-year outside hitter Becky Zeeman (Ottawa, Ont.) following the game. “But, we really got past that tonight and we were able to play well and just fight the whole time and not see that it was U of T (on the other side of the net).”

The Rams came into the match without a set victory against the Varsity Blues in their last four meetings. They were able to change that with a great start in front of a large crowd at Coca-Cola Court for OVA Club Day. Consistent setting from Kate McIlmoyle (London, Ont.) allowed a variety of Ryerson attackers to get in the mix early on. The turning point came with the Rams up 22-19 though.

Toronto’s Anna Feore came out of the back row with a big swing but got absolutely shut down by Ryerson’s first-year middle blocker Lauren Veltman (Brampton, Ont.). The big solo block received a thunderous roar from the crowd and fired up the Rams. They ended up taking the set 25-22 shortly after.

The defending OUA and national champions responded though. Coming into the game, the Varsity Blues averaged nearly four more digs per set than any other team in the province. That defensive resilience in the back row, led by libero Asli Ersozoglu and outside hitter Emma Armstrong, was crucial for Toronto. Despite a number of fantastic attacks by Ryerson’s offence, the Varsity Blues refused to let the ball hit the floor and came out on top at the end of a number of long rallies.  

Fantastic defence and great out-of-system offence led by their veteran setter Madelyn Mandryk allowed Toronto to win the second set 25-19 and third 25-22.

In need of a strong fourth set to force a fifth, the Rams pulled through when they needed to most. Tied at 24 points apiece, Theanna Vernon (Scarborough, Ont.) got a big kill to put the Rams up one. The next play, some miscommunication amongst the Varsity Blues’ front row resulted in the 26-24 victory for Ryerson.

“I think it was the energy,” said Zeeman when asked about the reason for the Rams’ great play in the set. “It was definitely was everyone at the game tonight and how much they wanted us to excel. When we were down, that really was what got us back together and the girls on the bench gave off great energy (as well).”

In fifth, Toronto’s Alina Dormann took over. With 22 kills through four sets, it seemed like last season’s OUA East Player and Rookie of the Year simply couldn’t be stopped. With her big left-handed swing on the right side, she consistently found the line with her attacks and recorded six kills (including the final point of the set) to secure the 15-12 victory for the Varsity Blues.

“My team is doing a really good job right now,” said Dormann in a post-game television interview about her performance. “My middles ran their offence very well so that gets me a lot of one-on-ones. And my setter is very good at reading the block on the other side so I get a lot of good opportunities thanks to them. It’s really a full team effort.”

Dormann’s 28 kills was a new career-best. Feore added 16 and Anna Licht 11 in the win while Mandryk collected 62 assists.

Vernon led the way offensively for Ryerson in the loss with 13 kills while Veltman and Veronica Livingston (Kelowna, B.C.) added 12 each. McIlmoyle finished with a career-high 48 assists while libero Julie Longman (Newmarket, Ont.) may have had her best game of the season. She had 17 digs and took away points from Toronto attackers all night.

The Rams will look to take the momentum from this contest into their clash with the Trent Excalibur (2-4) Saturday afternoon.

“They’re brand new to the league and I think we can’t underestimate them,” said Zeeman. “It’s a really good test for us to play some great volleyball and keep building from tonight. It’s our last game of the first half and it would be nice to finish on a win and make all of the things we’re working on in practice come together. That would be a success for us.”

First serve at Coca-Cola Court will be at 4:00 p.m. If you can’t take in the action live, be sure to watch the broadcast of the game at OUA.tv.