Photo by Alex D'Addese

Rams look forward to fresh start in season opener

By Cara Gilhula

TORONTO - The Ryerson Rams men's volleyball team will host their season opener on Wednesday, October 24th at the Mattamy Athletic Centre against Brock at 6:00 p.m.

Last season the Rams surpassed their expectation to compete in the OUA Final Four. They were tied for first in the OUA East with twelve wins and six losses. Although, they came up short to reach the U SPORTS Championship after losing in the bronze medal game.

After the loss of a number of graduating players, the Rams have a new roster, and are looking forward to a building year for the 2018-19 season.  

The Rams roster is made up of seven first years, seven second years, two third years, one fourth year, and two older eligibility players who are new to the OUA.

“This year is definitely going to be a building year to define our culture and our team dynamics. Considering the combination of younger and older players we want to take advantage of the chance to build, and have some success throughout the year as well. Our goal right now is to make way with some development, make the playoffs, and make it to the National Championships with an OUA gold medal game,” says interim head coach, Niko Rukavina.

“It’s one of the youngest teams that I have ever been a part of. Honestly, it's a good position to be in to as a coach, to have a lot of different options and different looks that we can bring on the court is appealing.”

The talent of incoming recruits is encouraging for the Rams. The Rams are welcoming Saad Shaikh (Mississauga, Ont.), Omari Young (Toronto, Ont.), Trystan Morris-Fraser (Pickering, Ont.) and Xander Ketrzynski (Toronto, Ont).  Each recruit has taken on a variety of leadership roles, and have earned at least one major medal within their elite volleyball career, which is promising for the future of the program.

“I think for the first season I really want to get to know the team and set the pace for the next few years,” says Ketrzynski.

“I want to work as hard as I can and I can feel like I can lead by example. Since I am a first year, I feel that I can influence other first years and even the rest of the team with how hard I work and what I’m about, and what I am trying to get out of it. I’m hoping I can influence the culture in a positive way and hopefully help the team achieve a high rank.”  

First years also include Lhexen Rabit (Hamilton, Ont.), Master’s student Joel Hannan (Toronto, Ont.) and Avy Bath (Mississauga, Ont).

“Our first priority has been taking care of their classes. Our second priority is in the weight room. We have been pushing the guys and trying to get them used to the load of playing varsity sports, practicing once or twice a day, plus games on the weekend. We want to make sure we are healthy and stable, and not getting injured later on in the season,” says Rukavina.

With such a new team, the transitions the Rams have to make will be a challenge that they will see throughout the season. Ketrzynski agrees to the fact that OUA volleyball is a different type of commitment and their success will also depend on their adjustment.

“Practice areas are a little different because we have more guys and it’s different practicing everyday versus maybe two or three times a week in club. Sometimes I find that days you expect a tougher practice, you actually have to take a bit off, because if you work that hard every day, you will quickly burn out,” states Ketrzynski.

“I’m getting used to having more time to focus on seperate skills, and bonding with the team to create consistency. We are learning how to stay level headed next to each other and do our role. Some guys work better together than others, but for the most part we are gelling pretty well, and it’s been a lot of fun. I can’t wait to see what the guys are going to do.”

Rukavina is also excited about the older players, who are expected to take on leadership roles for the upcoming season.

Eric Girard (Ottawa, Ont.) is in his fifth year of eligibility. He has spent some time training with the national team, and will provide a different outlook on the court. Rukavina says, “He is excited to play with guys he has never played with before, in this kind of league, so it will be great to see him step up and take on a leadership role while expanding his own player abilities.”

Second year Gregory Vukets (Auckland, New Zealand) will be another resource for the Rams on the court that fans should look out for. Vukets earned a bronze medal at the National beach volleyball championships this summer. He is described as a player who really connects with his teammates, and is consistent with his sets.

The only returning fourth year, Isaac McKeague (Ottawa, Ont.) will naturally take on the responsibility of being a leader and strong asset to the team, from knowing the ropes of the Ryerson program and how the OUA runs.

“He is definitely up there in the weight room and the academic side of things in terms of the leadership role. McKeague is a serving specialist for us and does an amazing job with his jump serve and strong hitting, so he usually puts the points up, and puts the pressure on the other team. I am excited to see him develop this year with this group of guys,” suggests Rukavina.

Right now there is no evident prediction on how the season is going to go for the Rams with their new team. It will be beneficial for them to focus on last year’s success, while raising the bar to challenge the program for outstanding years to come. After two pre-season matchups, the Rams are yet to come away with a win so it will be interesting to see how the team evolves together as the season persists.

Looking forward to the season opener at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 24th at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Rams are ready for their fresh start versus Brock. The Rams will use their home court advantage to hopefully secure a win and gain confidence as a team, in the interest of the season beginning.

“We are very excited for the season opener. We’re playing at 6:00 which is a little different. So we’re hoping to get in there, take over the home court, get the win, and then watch the women’s team celebrate their national championship, which I think will be a great inspiration for the team and upcoming season,” hints Rukavina.

Game start will be at 6:00 p.m. for the men’s team against Brock in the Coca-Cola Court. Following the game, Ryerson will host the most historical moment the Rams volleyball program has yet to see, in honour of the women’s team winning the national championship before their game at 8:00. Students have access for free with their OneCard, and tickets will be sold at the box office. For live updates follow us on Twitter.

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