Photo by Christian Bender

Ryerson bounces back with 3-set sweep of RMC

By Adam Jenkins

TORONTO - Just one day removed from a heartbreaking, near comeback win over the Queen's Gaels, the Ryerson Rams bounced back with a 3-set sweep of the RMC Paladins on Sunday night at Coca-Cola Court.

BOXSCORE

"Anytime we can come out of our home gym with a 3-0 win is always a good confidence boost," reflected Rams interim bench boss Niko Rukavina after the game. "Being able to fight back and see a fifth set [yesterday], and then coming out and getting the sweep here tonight was awesome."

The win moves the Rams to 2-1 on the season and increases their win streak over the Paladins to 31, dating back to February 3, 1990, exactly 10,500 days ago.

“It was nice to bounce back,” summarized sophomore setter Greg Vukets (Auckland, New Zealand) succinctly. “Last night was rough—long stretches of ugly volleyball—so it was good for us to resettle.”

The Rams raced out to a 7-1 lead in the opening set, led by an impressive serving and attacking performance from 5th-year senior Eric Girard (Ottawa, Ont.). Leading 16-5 at the technical timeout, the Rams never relinquished command of the match’s opening frame, en route to a 25-14 win.

“Eric served really well tonight which makes such a huge difference,” Vukets said of his teammate.

The Kiwi hit the nail on the head with his analysis of the newcomer’s serving performance. Girard’s 8 service aces were the most ever in a 3-set match in program history. Additionally, the team's 13 aces were just one shy of the team record in a sweep.

Those feats shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, based on the emphasis that has been placed on the serving game in practice.

“Serving had been a focus of ours in preseason,” added Rukavina. “Especially this early in the season, our list of things to improve is pretty long; we're getting better but we're definitely going to address some errors next week in practice.”

The errors the former Gael is referring to are the 13 serving and hitting errors his young squad conceded on the night. At the technical timeout of the second set, the Rams led 16-10. But once the teams returned to the floor, RMC dug in, and Ryerson didn’t make things easy on themselves. Eight of the Paladins’ final ten points of the set came from errors committed by the Rams.

Entering what would be the final set of the match, Ryerson was focused on gaining the momentum early and never looking back. And that’s exactly what they did, including Vukets who was setting up his teammates all night long.

“On a personal basis, I had a bad performance last night,” he said modestly. “For me, I just wanted to come in and be really solid the whole way through.”

And the New Zealander lived up to those self-set expectations, moving the ball around with precision on the way to recording 39 assists with just 2 service and attacking errors.

“Volleyball is such a momentum game that we didn’t want them to get their tails up at all, and we just stayed focused,” emphasized the sophomore.

While the home team’s core pieces all had formidable games, some not-so-familiar faces also contributed when their names were called upon.

"Being able to get some of the guys off the bench and onto the court, and still have that success is always a goal for a coach, Rukavina added. “We had a lot of guys play today and that was really exciting for us.”

The third set saw the pesky Paladins mount another comeback. Trailing 16-9 at the tech, Ryerson came out flat and RMC clawed their way back into the set, cutting the lead to 19-16. But the experience and skill of the Rams shined through, outscoring the gritty soldiers 6-2 down the stretch to seal the 3-0 (25-14, 25-15, 25-18) victory.

After the game, the Rams’ imported setter already had his sights set on what was ahead.

“I’m hoping that in the big weeks to come we can keep making plays and keep changing the momentum when we need to,” he added.

Then, when asked to pick one word to describe his team’s methodical comeback win, the psychology major settled on: ‘solid.’

Solid they were, and solid they will have to continue to be as the 2018-19 OUA regular season is in full swing.

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