On Jan. 25 at Love Competition Hall, the McGill Martlets (15-12-3) took down a sturdy Sherbrooke Vert et Or (14-5-9) defense in three hotly contested sets. The Martlets treated the 170 fans in attendance for the Martlets’ annual Dig for the Cure game—a fundraiser to support the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation—to some spectacular plays as they inched closer to cementing a top postseason position.
The start to the first set was intense as both teams tried to assert their presence early. Third-year power-hitter Claire Vercheval kicked off a strong three-point run with a perfectly-placed ace, and the Martlets took control of the set. Sherbrooke fought back late but could not stop McGill, and the first set ended 25-20 in favour of the Martlets.
The beginning of the second set saw much of the same from McGill. A block from Vercheval set the tone for the strong Martlet start and incited a rousing cheer from the crowd. The pressure only grew after an error from the Sherbrooke libero led to a seven-point difference in favour of McGill, 8-1.
Despite a breathtaking one-handed dig from Martlet power-hitter Emilie Matte de Grasse, Sherbrooke finally killed the run. There was some controversy over the play, however, as the umpire seemingly missed a double hit by a Sherbrooke player for the point, leading to some rumbling among the Martlet fans. The opponents used the confusion as fuel, fighting back to take the lead 17-16.
The two teams traded leads several more times as the tension reached its peak. But, with the set then tied at 23, McGill held strong and staved off the Vert et Or for two consecutive points to take the second set, 25-23.
Martlet Head Coach Rachèle Béliveau urged her team to focus after the tight second set.
“She told us we had to execute […] our game plan,” fourth-year middle blocker Mila Krunic said. “Whenever we get a kill, we get very excited. It gives us momentum. She wanted us to keep the momentum.”
Heading into the third set, an aggressive exchange for the first point set the tone for what would be the closest set of the game. A timely, textbook dig by Martlet libero Lea-Marie Duguay and another hammered hit from Vercheval highlighted the Martlets’ efforts midway through the set.
McGill finally built some momentum, courtesy of a bold kill from second-year setter Andreanne Tremblay and the opponents unfortunately hitting the ceiling, giving the Martlets a 20-17 lead. However, an inspired Sherbrooke side pushed the game to its limit by evening out the score at 24. In response, Béliveau brought fourth-year right-side hitter Clare Nishikawa onto the court late in the game. With some key blocks from Nishikawa, the Martlets took control and completed the three-set victory.
With the win, the Martlets maintain a four-point advantage over the second-place Montreal Carabins, with a game in hand. Béliveau, however, is wary of complacency.
“In the past, we had a good season, and we would not qualify for the playoffs because [we] missed one game,” Béliveau said. “It’s so tight. We have to take every opportunity [… and] be prepared for the challenge.”
The Martlets defeated the last-place Ottawa Gee Gees (1-13) in four sets on Jan. 27. They will face their closest competitors, the Université de Montréal Carabins (11-4), on Feb. 3.
Moment of the Game
Fourth-year power-hitter Claire Vercheval got the loudest cheer of the game when she capped off the second-set with a thunderous strike.
“We came out strong and […] ready. We came out knowing the game plan […] and did it. We were confident in our display.” – Middle blocker Mila Krunic on why McGill was the better of the two teams.
Martlet power-hitter Claire Vercheval put up a game-high 22.5 points.