Rams looking to defend OUA and U SPORTS titles
TORONTO - Coming off a season as the best women’s university volleyball team in the country, the Ryerson Rams are looking to replicate their success in bulk this year as they aim to defend their title as OUA and U SPORTS Champions.
2017-18 was a fairytale season: the team went undefeated through the entirety of the regular season, dominated their way through the playoffs, and fought their way to the top of U SPORTS. The 2017-18 Rams earned themselves the title as Ryerson University’s first-ever national champions, a feat that automatically wrote them into the school’s record books.
Taking the many lessons they learned last year, the Rams will hit the court again this season with a newfound purpose, more experienced than ever and ready for action.
Fifth-year senior and team captain Theanna Vernon (Scarborough, Ont.) says the team’s approach is simple: stay present and focus on the task at hand.
“The season is very long and it’s easy to think ahead and not stay in the moment,” says Vernon. “We’ve learned that we have to play every point like it’s the last, and it’s not over until the last whistle blows.”
This year’s Rams doesn’t exactly mirror that of last. With several key graduating seniors having departed, the team will need to fill the holes left by their fourth- and fifth-year superstars. Most notably, Julie Longman’s absence will be felt both on and off the court. Ryerson’s starting libero for the last five seasons, Longman was an anchor on the back end and earned plenty of recognition for her strong and consistent play. A two-time OUA First-Team All-Star, Longman leaves the Rams as the program’s all-time leader in digs (1203). Though Longman’s outstanding career at Ryerson came to a close last year, her absence provides an opportunity for several rookie Rams to step up and take her place.
Ryerson head coach Dustin Reid says though the team will miss Longman and their other graduating seniors in Jena Bonello, Jade Griffiths, Haroula Giovanopolous and Christie Robertson, the Rams will be taking a fresh approach to the new year.
“Our expectations have always been high, especially in recent years,” says Reid. “There’s more pressure this year than in past years, but we’ve focused our attention on approaching the season with a new perspective. It’s a new year and a new team.”
It’s safe to say fans can expect to see some changes in the team’s lineup this year. But, fortunately for the Rams, the strength of their recruiting class will certainly help ease the transition into the new season.
THE RECRUITING CLASS
The team’s 2018 recruiting class brings a strong mix of true freshmen and college/university transfers. Kate Grasman (Komoka, Ont.), an outside hitter, found success at both a club and provincial level before joining the Rams. A member of Team Ontario at the 16U, 17U and Elite levels, Grasman also earned medals at the provincial and national levels with her club team, Forest City Volleyball Club.
Another true freshman, Teodora Vukovic (Mississauga, Ont.) brings a breadth experience to Ryerson’s middle court. A member of Team Ontario in 2017 and the Canadian Junior National Team in 2018, Vukovic will likely make an immediate impact on the Rams this season.
Sara Piana (Ottawa, Ont.), another outside hitter, joins the Rams after playing three years at Loyalist College in the Ontario Colleges Athletics Association (OCAA). A three-time OCAA First-Team All-Star and a three-time East Division scoring champion, Piana’s high-level experience adds unmatched value to this already-experienced Rams team.
Brett Hagarty (Aurora, Ont.) played three years with the Queen’s Gaels from 2012-2015 and joins the Rams this season as an outside hitter. Hagarty, a two-time OUA Second-Team All-Star, will add another layer to of the Rams’ obvious offensive depth.
With their new additions locked in, the Rams will look to their returning core group of players to frontline their efforts this season, as the team aspires to secure their place in the U SPORTS record books with yet another dominant campaign.
THE RETURNING CORE
Frontlining the 2018-19 Ryerson Rams is none other than team captain, Theanna Vernon. Last season, Vernon put together a season for the ages: the OUA First-Team All-Star and Ryerson’s Female Athlete of the Year dominated the country with her .482 regular-season hitting percentage. She was named MVP of the 2018 U SPORTS National Championships after leading her team to the school’s first national banner, later named as a finalist for the BLG U SPORTS Athlete of the Year award. The historic nomination marked the first time a Ryerson athlete has ever been up for the prestigious title.
Vernon, an elite-level talent, returns to the Rams for her fifth and final year in the OUA. Vernon currently holds the program record in career hitting percentage (.422) and total blocks (292) and will have the opportunity to improve those numbers this year while also reaching for the program’s all-time points record, currently held by Veronica Livingston (1225).
Aiding Vernon in her efforts will be two dominant offensive forces in Lauren Veltman (Brampton, Ont.) and Cailin Wark (Georgetown, Ont.). Veltman was named the U SPORTS Tournament All-Star squad after a dominant performance at the 2018 National Championships. In the regular season, Veltman averaged 3.45 kills per set and 4.0 points per set and will be looking to replicate similar numbers this season. Wark, on the other hand, capped off her impressive 2017-18 season with a nod to the OUA’s first All-Star team after she contributed 212.5 points, 154 kills, and 38 service aces in 68 regular-season sets.
Veltman and Wark, both juniors, will be relied upon to lead the team both on and off the court this season.
Sophomore setter Alicia Lam (Oakville, Ont.) returns to the Rams this year after earning the spot as the team’s starting setter last season. Middle Lindsay Kleuskens (London, Ont.) and libero Demetra Maragos (Vancouver, B.C.) will also get the opportunity to step into bigger roles this season.
With the Rams’ undefeated streak still at stake, the team’s core group of returnees is working to level expectations for the upcoming season while also applying the crucial lessons they learned last year to their new game approach.
Coming off an undefeated season, the Rams will have unmatched pressure placed on them this season. This has both positive and negative connotations, according to Reid.
“Last year, our record was a burden to us at times,” says Reid. “On the flip side, we learned how to deal with the tight moments of the season, and we learned what it takes to win. Those are things we benefitted from last year and the lessons we’ll take into the season with us this year.”
Approaching the expectations head-on, the team will be taking a direct approach to tackle the stigma. Building upon what they learned last year, the Rams enter the season aspiring for excellence, both in the classroom, on the court, and in the community.
“We want our players to understand what went into being an elite team last year,” explains Reid. “And not just on the court. It’s about how we embrace our excellence in the classroom, how we continue to volunteer in the community — essentially, what it means to be a student-athlete on the Ryerson women’s volleyball team.”
With championship thoughts on everyone's minds, the Rams are excited to tackle the challenges a new season will present.
All things included, Reid hopes this year’s Rams will competing for a national championship in March.
“We want to play our best volleyball in the playoffs,” says Reid. “We want to give our chance to compete for a national championship once again.”
Vernon is more elevated in her goals for the year, keeping an open mind in her approach to the new year.
“I want us to reach our full potential as a team,” adds Vernon. “If we can elevate our game to the next level, anything is possible. My goal is to continue to represent Ryerson in a positive way, and another gold medal for the team wouldn’t hurt either.”
The Rams will open up their 2018-19 regular season campaign against the Brock Badgers on October 24, 2018. Before the first serve flies at 8:00 PM, last year’s championship team will be
The Rams claimed a 3-0 victory against the Badgers in preseason play earlier this month at the Hamilton Invitational Tournament, eventually going on to beat the host McMaster Marauders and the Toronto Varsity Blues to claim the tournament gold.
The Rams certainly have the edge in the head-to-head matchup with the Badgers. Ryerson hasn’t lost a single set to the Badgers since October 2014, with their most recent loss to Brock dating back to 2011.
Wednesday’s game against Brock will mark the beginning of the Rams’ journey back to the top of the country. Their confidences carrying them and the Ryerson community behind them, this year’s Rams will take to the court on Wednesday evening stronger than ever, ready to take on whatever obstacles may appear ahead.