In the world of sports – where every team seems to think they have a chance at the playoffs and every player parrots the same lines about winning on “Any given Sunday” – the honest and realistic goals of the McGill Redmen volleyball team are refreshing. The players and coaches talk about single games, not tournaments; about learning from mistakes, not about knocking off powerhouse teams like the Dalhousie Tigers; and about competing, not necessarily about winning.
That’s not to say that the team is content with mediocrity, but rather that the Redmen realize that they can’t suddenly go from losing 85-straight conference games in 2002-09 to being a playoff team in just one year. It’s an attitude that allows them to view their 1-2 record in the AUS-QSSF Interlocking Regular Season Tournament they hosted this weekend as somewhat successful.
“Our goals are not to beat teams like Dalhousie and Laval [who are both ranked in the top three in the country], they’re to compete against teams like Sherbrooke and Memorial,” said McGill Head Coach Simon Berleur. “Our main goal this weekend was to get revenge on [the Memorial University Sea-Hawks] who beat us last semester, and to build good habits when we play against a very good team like Dalhousie.”
The Redmen accomplished their goal by opening the tournament with a 3-1 victory over Memorial on Friday night. The McGill back row was dominant, registering 55 digs to the Sea-Hawks’ 18, and providing great first balls for setter Jean-Christophe Campbell, who finished with a game-high 40 assists. Third-year right-side hitter Mark Hodge also had a strong game with 19 kills, to lead the Redmen to their second win of the regular season.
“It was a good win for us,” said libero Jeff Porter. “I think we’re still improving, but we’ve got to compete like we did against Memorial every night.”
The outcome on both Saturday and Sunday was less positive for the Redmen, as the University of New Brunswick Reds and the Dalhousie Tigers dominated McGill in a pair of straight-set victories. Both UNB and Dalhousie physically outmatched the diminutive Redmen, and both teams used their size advantage to dominate McGill at the net – overpowering Redmen blocks and gobbling up overpasses.
“It’s always a little intimidating going up against those teams – I guess you could call most of their players ‘monsters,'” said Porter. “They’re big and talented, and they just wore us down over the course of the games.”
McGill’s height disadvantage – they have only one regular player who is over 6-foot-5 – was exacerbated over the break by the departure of 6-foot-6 power hitter Yannick Pirali. Pirali spent the fall semester on exchange from a university in Belgium and his departure has increased McGill’s troubles on the front row.
“Pirali was a key player for us last semester, and it’s difficult to adapt and try to play the same type of game without the guy who was your best player in the first semester,” said Berleur. “We’ve had to try to find someone to play in his place, but obviously we don’t have another 6-foot-6 guy with his skills on the team.”
Despite his teams struggles in the tournament, Berleur made a point of singling out libero Jeff Porter for his play in all three games. Porter had 37 digs on the weekend – at least a couple of which drew admiring murmurs from players scouting the Redmen from the stands.
“Since the beginning of the season Porter has been a guy who shows up and works hard every game,” said Berleur. “Unfortunately he can’t really be our go-to-guy because he’s a libero but defensively he’s so important to us. I thought he was probably our best player this weekend.”
Porter and the rest of the Redmen (2-10) have a near-impossible task ahead of them, however, as they must win all four of their remaining games if they hope to qualify for the playoffs. They resume conference play with a game against the Montreal Carabins (7-7) on January 29.