Sports, Volleyball

Women’s volleyball defeats Sherbrooke to secure first-ever RSEQ championship title

Love Competition Hall was packed shoulder-to-shoulder. It was March 12—the day Quebec ditched vaccine passports and a slew of other COVID-19 restrictions, two years after the pandemic began. While many across the city were celebrating the move, at McGill, the Martlets volleyball team (14-5) were rejoicing as they defeated the Sherbrooke Vert et Or (11-6) in four sets to win a best-of-three conference championship series. The victory marked the first RSEQ title in the team’s history. 

The opening game on March 11 saw the Martlets win 3-1 on visiting turf, but the teams were neck-and-neck in points and blocks. 

“I think our biggest challenge was that we won yesterday, so we had to […] start again from zero, not to sit on our victory and just go all-out,” said Clara Poiré in a post-game interview on March 12. The third-year right-side hitter racked up 10.5 points and four digs in game two. 

In the first set, the top-seeded Vert et Or quickly gained a lead, while the Martlets faltered, taking an early time-out to regroup. Yet, team spirits were high—with every lost point, the girls would band together for a quick word of encouragement. 

“Coach always gives us cues as to what we can improve, and […] we had a model of one point at a time,” Poiré said. “We [would] look each other in the eyes to remind each other of that model during the time-outs.” 

Sherbrooke was a force to be reckoned with—their sheer strength of will could be felt behind every spike, kill, and serve. Their blocks were their strongest suit in the first set, with gasps of disappointment making their way through the McGill crowd as shot after shot was denied at the net. Three out of McGill’s first four points were on Sherbrooke’s service errors alone. The first set went to the visitors, 25-13. 

“This was never going to be an easy match, and we dropped that first set, and we had to pick ourselves back up,” said co-captain Victoria Iannotti. “For a young team, that was the biggest challenge—showing maturity in a stressful situation.” 

McGill spent most of the second set still lagging behind, but the momentum switched when they managed five points in a row to catch up to their opponents. The team painstakingly rallied for the lead, with fourth-year libero Catherine Verchevel tallying a whopping 16 digs against Shebrooke’s lethal hits. 

“Sherbrooke is just a fantastic team,” Iannotti said. “We were very evenly matched. They’re fighters, we’re fighters, so it was about who can dig deep and keep fighting even when times were tough, even when you’re down a few points.”

The third and fourth sets saw the Martlets playing their best volleyball of the evening. Power hitter Iannotti and all-star middle blocker Charlene Robitaille led by example on the court with their infectious enthusiasm. Iannotti, as usual, led the team with a game-high 15 kills. 

Up by nine points in the final set, McGill’s final serve was a nail in the coffin for Sherbrooke’s defeat. As the ball hit the floor, the spectators, staff, and team went wild. As for how it felt to win this title with this team after two seasons lost to the pandemic, Poire was unequivocally happy. 

“Honestly, it’s amazing,” she said. “Personally, it’s the most talented team cohesion-wise [….] When we play together as a team, we’re invincible.”

Teammate Iannotti emphasized the immense team effort that went into their road to victory, both on and off the court. 

“I think [this win] really meant everything because this team is not led by one or two people,” she said. “What you see here today is the tip of the iceberg of the group of people that was working toward this.” 

The Martlets are now slated to compete for a national title in Calgary the weekend of March 22. 

Moment of the Game: Coming back from a five-point deficit in the second set, co-captain Victoria Iannotti slammed the ball into the back left corner of the court before Sherbrooke could even react, bringing the score to 21-21. 

Stat Corner: Charlene Robitaille, fifth-year middle blocker, was named the RSEQ women’s volleyball player of the year. She played in every single set this season—a total of 46—and has the second-best hitting percentage in the league (.335). 

Quotable: “To bring this win to Rachele, our coach, in her 30th season, for everything that we sacrificed and worked through in the pandemic, really means everything, and it’s a testament to our resilience and perseverance.” —Third-year power hitter Victoria Iannotti 

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