TORONTO - Despite a lot of turnover from last year to this one, the Ryerson Rams men’s volleyball made quite the statement Friday night with a 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-19) victory in their season opener against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. Senior Lucas Coleman (Brooklin, Ont.) led the way offensively for the Rams with 14 kills while fourth-year setter Adam Anagnostopoulos (Waterloo, Ont.) had 35 assists.

After three starters graduated following the team’s run to nationals in early 2016, the Rams knew that they’d need to retool this season and approach things a little differently. Instead of being the strong, powerful team of old, Ryerson played a fresh style that was quite effective against the Varsity Blues and exciting to watch.

“It’s been different,” said Anagnostopoulos after the game with a smile. “I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse. It’s just different. Instead of a high-flying powerful team, now we’re a small, crafty team. It’s a different style of play but it’s a fun style of play and we’re enjoying it so far.”

This new identity has been the result of a few players moving around and assuming new roles on the team. After three seasons as a libero, Will Otten (Delaware, Ont.) was fantastic in his new position as an outside hitter. He finished with nine kills and ten digs. Meanwhile, former setter Brett Whitley (Brighton, Ont.) has embraced becoming one of the team’s middles. He had four kills on eight attacks and picked up a solo block.

“We have some new players playing in some different spots and guys really sacrificing what’s easiest for them for the betterment of the team,” said Ryerson head coach Dustin Reid. “When you have people doing that on and off the court, it’s easy to have fun. I think we need to be a team that plays aggressively, that defends well and goes for things when we have the opportunity.”

Things started off with a bang at the Goldring Centre. Anagnostopoulos set Coleman for a back row attack but was blocked by Toronto’s middle Zia Karim. That got the crowd into it but didn’t throw off the Rams. They regrouped, battled and took a 16-15 lead into the technical timeout following a big kill on the left side by Coleman.

Ryerson then picked up three of the next four points and sailed to the 25-19 victory to jump ahead. The momentum from the first set carried into the second for the Rams.

Up 7-3 early, Ryerson’s play slipped a bit. The Varsity Blues got back within two points before the Rams’ Brendan Kewin (Milton, Ont.) began to assert his will on the right side. A few kills by the fourth-year restored Ryerson’s advantage.

Down 15-14, Toronto’s Nicholas Trewern tried to tie things back up. His big swing was shut down by Otten and fifth-year middle Uchenna Ofoha (Markham, Ont.), flew back to the Varsity Blues’ side of the net and smoked the first-year outside hitter in the face.

Some sloppy play by Ryerson following the technical timeout let Toronto back into the set, but they were able to hang on to take it 25-22.

It was more of the same in the third. The Rams continued to fire on all cylinders and the Varsity Blues' block defence struggled to read Anagnostopoulos as he distributed the ball to a variety of options. Up 16-11 at the technical timeout, Ryerson continued to execute down the stretch and completed the sweep with a 25-19 set victory.

The Rams’ offensive mindset proved to be the difference. In the first two sets, the team only committed one attack error and finished the game with six. The Varsity Blues, meanwhile, collected 21.

“When we’re out of system, when the set’s not right, just get it back in,” said Anagnostopoulos about his team's approach this season. “Let’s let them make the errors. That’s how we’re trying to play… The results just speak for themselves.”

“If you can be aggressive and not make mistakes, then you’re hard to beat,” added Reid. “I give the guys a lot of credit for executing and making good choices depending on the situations they were in… You can’t count on those kinds of numbers match in, match out. But, it was a big reason why we put ourselves in a position to win.”

Ryerson will try to make it two straight victories to start the campaign when they take on the Western Mustangs in London Sunday afternoon. It will be the first meeting between the two sides since the Rams knocked the Mustangs out in the OUA quarterfinals in February. The game is set to begin at 3:00 p.m and will be broadcasted live on OUA.tv.

NOTES
Rams’ first-year libero Taylor Jordan was a steady back row presence in his OUA debut. He finished with eight digs… Every one of Ryerson’s attacking players finished with a kill percentage of .273 or higher… Ofoha recorded three of the Rams’ six solo blocks.