On Jan. 21, the Martlet volleyball team (11-2) squared off against the Université Laval Rouge et Or (8-5) in Love Competition Hall. Fresh off a win against the then league-leading Université de Montréal Carabins, the Martlets handed the Rouge et Or a 3-1 (22-25, 25-18, 25-23, 25-21) loss in their third meeting of the regular season.
Laval pulled ahead with an early lead in the first set and never relinquished control. The Martlets showed signs of a mid-set resurgence when third-year right side Clare Nishikawa came off the bench to hammer home two consecutive aces. Despite McGill’s best efforts, Laval managed to contain the outburst and rode the set to a 25-22 final score.
The start of the second set mirrored the start of the first, but this time, the Martlets succeeded in recovering from an early four-point deficit. McGill drew even at 12-12, prompting a Laval time out. When the two squads returned to the floor, the Martlets put up three quick points to earn their first strong lead of the game. With a pair of big blocks from second-year right side Rowan Fletcher and fourth-year middle Myriam Robitaille, the Martlets widened the gap. A late Rouge et Or revival prevented an easy Martlet win, but the home side was still able to close out a comfortable 25-18 finish.
An even start marked the beginning of the third stanza, but several consecutive McGill gaffes allowed Laval to pull ahead. After calling a time out, the Martlets cleaned up their game and regained lost ground. The two teams entered the technical time out separated by only one point, with the Rouge et Or leading 16-15. The sides repeatedly traded points to reach a 23-23 tie, neither able to establish momentum. In a collective effort, the Martlets fought through a long rally to take the game to 24-23, and a momentous block by setter Catherine Duchaine and middle blocker Érika Cournoyer brought the third set to a well-earned Martlet win.
The third set showcased McGill’s focus and mental fortitude. Second-year power Claire Vercheval outlined the team’s mentality throughout the tight competition.
“When it gets really intense, both teams start talking a lot, screaming a lot,” Vercheval said. “So we just [needed] to stay on [our] own side, concentrate on [our] things, and that’s what we did.”
Similarly, in the fourth set, neither side was able to pull ahead until the end of the period, when the Martlets established a 20-17 lead. Finally, up 24-21, the McGill squad maintained composure through a back-and-forth rally—including a huge block by Cournoyer and a merciless hit by Vercheval. The game drew to an anti-climactic close when two Laval players collided and failed to return the ball.
The win places the Martlets back in a tie for first place atop the RSEQ conference, level with the Carabins. Their next home game is on Jan. 25 against the Université du Québec à Montréal Citadins. With seven games remaining, McGill is focusing on short-term objectives to set themselves up for a strong regular season finish.
“The goal is, when you play high-level like this, is to really work it out one game a time,” Head Coach Rachèle Béliveau said. “We know we have a good team [….] As we train, we want to improve, and we want to get better, and I think that’s going to carry us for a long time.”
Moment of the game
Fifth-year middle Érika Cournoyer hit the deck to save a cheeky backward tip from a Laval setter, allowing her team to cement a 20-14 lead in the second set.
“I think since Christmas, we’re really more focused and more stable in the back, [….] If we [can control] the ball at the net, we can be perfect, almost.” – Fourth-year power Emilie Matte de Grasse on her team’s priority for the rest of the season.
Cournoyer tallied five aces—more than Laval’s team total of four.