Martlet volleyball
Martlets drop frst game in series but came back to win 2-1. (Noah Sutton / McGill Tribune)

Volleyball: Martlets advance to RSEQ Finals and clinch CIS Championship berth

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Despite dropping a 3-0 loss to the Sherbrooke Vert et Or (15-7) in their first game in the RSEQ semifinals on Friday, the Martlet volleyball team (15-7) rebounded on Saturday and Sunday to not only advance to the RSEQ Finals, but to clinch a berth at the CIS Championships. Though statistically, Sherbrooke came away with a rather commanding win, the Martlets steadily found their groove throughout the game, losing the respective sets by scores of 25-19, 25-18, and 25-23, with the most exciting game play coming in the last stanza, when the Martlets nearly stole the win in the set. The momentum generated towards the end of Friday’s game helped translated into two consecutive wins on Saturday and Sunday by scores of 3-2 and 3-0 respectively.

“Sherbrooke served really well today, and very aggressive,” Martlets Head Coach Rachele Beliveau said after the loss on Friday. “We couldn’t play our offence like we usually play.”On Saturday and Sunday, McGill improved their offence game by game to overwhelm Sherbrooke. On Friday, Sherbrooke bested McGill offensively in hitting proficiency, kills, aces, and blocked shots. Defensively for the Martlets, miscommunication led to rogue balls being missed on more than a few occasions. Similarly, on Saturday, McGill once again dominated Sherbrooke in digs, but fell short in kills, blocks, and aces; however, enhanced defence and aggressiveness allowed the Martlets to cling to the win. The weekend saga culminated full circle in the deciding match on Sunday, with the Martlets displaying more confidence, poise, and tenacity than they had all weekend–besting Sherbrooke in digs, aces, and kills to dominate the game. Beliveau credits the comeback to increased aggression on the ball and enhanced execution of the game plan.

“We need the ball to be at the net, and then we’ll become very good offensively,” Beliveau elaborated. “And the ball wasn’t there [on Friday]. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t there on the net.”

Despite the disappointing loss, McGill progressively improved their game throughout the match. At the beginning of the second set, McGill and Sherbrooke traded points, with McGill hanging onto the lead up until midway through the set. In the second half, key missed blocks led to a ommanding lead lead for Sherbrooke, which they managed to hang onto despite a late-set surge by the Martlets, led by energizing blocks by Robitaille and powerful shots by junior power-hitter Marie-Eve Dorion.

In Friday’s third set, the Sherbrooke defence looked sharp, saving what looked like sure points for McGill. The end of the set was the high point of the game for the Martlets, with McGill back coming from a deficit to tie the game 23-23. Sherbrooke would ultimately pull ahead after an aptly placed spike, and then win the game off the technicality of a Martlet player accidentally touching the net. The last set on Friday would set the tone for the Martlets for the rest of the weekend, giving them indispensible momentum and positivity that contributed to the series win, even in the face of a rowdy crowd at Sherbrooke on Saturday and a fervent Sherbrooke comeback attempt after McGill put them down 2-0.

“At the beginning, I think [our players] were nervous,” Beliveau said. “And then at some point they just started to get it together but it just gave the momentum to Sherbrooke, and if you do that with Sherbrooke, they’re going to go up.”

Though Sherbrooke commanded the win on Friday, the Martlets shook their nerves and wrestled back the momentum. Sherbrooke notably ended the Martlets Championship hopes last year by beating them out of a playoff berth, but this season, the Martlets bested Sherbrooke 4-3 through seven matches. With the strong response in a tightly contested game on Saturday at Sherbrooke, followed by a dominant performance on Sunday, the Martlets have finally solidified their superiority over their cross-provincial foes. The Martlets look forward to their next series, the RSEQ Finals against Université de Montreal, coming up this weekend.

“Our programs have been working really hard to be in the top two of our league, and this is what we’ve reached this year,” Beliveau concluded. “Now, we have to make it concrete with the playoffs.”