For the first three months of the season, the McGill women’s volleyball team looked virtually unstoppable. With a pair of five-game winning streaks, steady appearances in the CIS Top-10, and depth at every position, a deep run at Nationals seemed inevitable. But in every sport, there is always the danger of peaking too soon. The Martlets struggled mightily in the second half of the season, and were eliminated from the QSSF playoffs – and by default, a Nationals berth – after back-to-back thrashings at the hands of the Laval Rouge et Or over the weekend.
What started out as an emotional, high-energy affair at Love Competition Hall on Friday night quickly deteriorated into a Martlet meltdown, with missed serves, botched covers, and weak blocks allowing Laval to take the first set, 21-25.
“I think [we lacked] communication a little bit,” said all-Canadian power-hitter Jennifer Thomson. “It was loud in the gym, we started off strong with it, but we needed to keep it going through the entire match. We started off strong picking up a lot of balls, but it kind of deteriorated.”
Serving was perhaps the biggest thorn in McGill’s side on Friday night, as the Martlets committed 10 service errors while failing to register a single ace. Kelsey Irwin – a senior middle blocker and arguably the team’s most consistent offensive threat – suffered a knee injury earlier in the month that forced her to miss time, and was visibly slowed against Laval. While Irwin still managed to lead the Martlets in kills and points with 13, the 5-foot-11 Vancouver native was not her usual self on the defensive end.
“Obviously, it does hurt not to have Kelsey [at full strength],” said Thomson.
The Rouge et Or wasted no time in the second and third sets asserting themselves on offence, alternately sending hard balls down the line and cross-court to frustrate McGill’s back-row defence. The Martlets registered 68 digs to Laval’s 48 – a clear indicator of which team played the role of aggressor. McGill showed signs of a comeback in the third set, but successive kills by Laval’s Melanie Savoie quickly snuffed out the home squad’s winning aspirations.
The Martlets had a shot at redemption on Saturday afternoon, but could not raise their level of play on the road, falling to Laval once again in straight sets. Freshman power-hitter Olivia Grecu led the team with 11 kills. The defeat marked the sixth straight loss for the Martlets – an ending to their season no one could have predicted a few months ago.
“Yes, we have to admit that it is disappointing – there’s no denying it,” said Thomson. “But we need to gulp it down and take the next step.”
The next step for the Martlets will have to come without the guidance of Thomson, the team’s brightest star for a number of years. And although Thomson’s legacy will be hard to duplicate, McGill boasts a number of young and talented players who have shown that they are more than capable of contributing at the CIS level. While the weekend may not have ended in the fashion they had hoped, the Martlets can take comfort in the qualities that they retained throughout the course of the year: character, camaraderie, and a toughness that is sure to carry over to next season.