A straight-set loss to the visiting Montreal Carabins wasn’t the result the McGill men’s volleyball team had hoped for, but for the team and the fans, Friday night’s match was about far more than a small shift in the standings. It was about sacrifice, determination, growth, and an increasingly optimistic future.
Graduating seniors Tom Fabian, Ed O’Dwyer, and Matthew Mosseler were honoured before the start of the match for their sizeable contributions to a program that wallowed in mediocrity for many years, but has become increasingly competitive and successful in recent seasons. Redmen Head Coach Simon Berleur – in his fifth season with the team – was quick to recognize the collective impact his graduating players have had on McGill’s men’s volleyball program.
“This is a group who came in four years ago, when we did not have the momentum that we have now, [and] really helped bring this team to another level,” he said. “Before, we had a tough time [just] to play against the [other team’s] bench, and now we compete with the starters. The next step for us is to bring in new recruits, and start a new generation.”
On Friday, Montreal proved too big and too strong for the undersized Redmen to handle, consistently breaking through McGill’s block and forcing the home squad to send back freeball after freeball. Freshman middle Pierre-Yves Brennan and junior power-hitter Mark Hodge led the team with 11 points apiece, but perhaps more telling than any of the individual performances in the match was the passion and camaraderie exhibited by the Redmen on the court.
“Last time we played [Montreal], we beat them, but I guess it just wasn’t our night,” said Mosseler. “We started off with a lot of emotion, and that sort of decreased near the end. We need to work on maintaining that emotion throughout the whole game. [But] throughout the season we definitely improved – you could see the improvement from last year. This year was one of [the few] times we’ve ever beaten Montreal, a definite improvement for the program.”
While McGill’s record in conference play has been far from stellar this year, the team has been able to compete consistently with many of the better teams in the country. The Redmen beat the teams they were expected to beat, and were even able to pull a few upsets, most notably a straight-set victory last weekend on the road against the Carabins. O’Dwyer, an all-conference libero who has provided invaluable leadership this season, commented on the significance of the team’s steady improvement from year to year.
“Tonight wasn’t about the three guys who are graduating – it was about the future of the team, and we’ve come a long ways from where we used to be,” he said. “We used to never be competitive against very many teams, and now we’re pushing some of the best teams in the country. That’s where I want to see the program. I hope that if I come back in four years, the program will be even further along than it is now.”
It’s a safe bet to assume that O’Dwyer’s wish will be granted. All signs are certainly pointing towards a highly successful program in the near future.
“We have to make sure we recruit three guys of the same quality,” said Berleur. “That’s the goal for us right now, to have the same competitive team or even better on the court, and potentially have a better [final] objective for the future.”
Filling the shoes left empty by Fabian, Mossler, and O’Dwyer will be a difficult task for McGill’s coaching staff, but as the team has improved, so has the quality of recruiting. McGill boasts a plethora of gifted young players at all positions, and pieces necessary to make the Redmen contenders are continuing to fall into place.
“With the guys Simon is recruiting and with Simon as our coach, if we get the right support from the athletics department the sky’s the limit for us,” said O’Dwyer. “There’s no reason we can’t be competitive in our league and try to get to Nationals. It’s all about the will to win; we’ve got the right pieces in place, and hopefully the future will be bright for us.”