Five For Pondering: Varsity Blues stun McMaster

The CIS site has been fixed, so here's this week's edition of Five For Pondering. As always, post feedback and suggested games for next week's edition here or send them to me at andrew_bucholtz [at]

Game of the past week:
Men's volleyball: University of Toronto Varsity Blues 3, McMaster Marauders 2 (set scores of 27-25, 19-25, 25-14, 14-25, 15-11) [Varsity Blues Athletics]

Why it's notable: A surprising upset. McMaster was ranked fourth in the country going in both the coaches' poll and the RPI, while Toronto didn't crack either ranking. The 14-2 OUA-leading Marauders seemed well above the 6-10 Varsity Blues, who have a tough fight on their hands to make the playoffs. Moreover, McMaster and Queen's have dominated the OUA for the past several seasons, so seeing the lower teams pick up wins like this suggests that we might be seeing more parity in the OUA. Queen's head coach Brenda Willis said as much to me for my Queen's Journal piece on the Gaels' weekend's games. Increasing the quality of regular-season competition in the OUA is an important step to restoring parity on the national scale, as both Willis and McMaster head coach Dave Preston told me last year for an article on why Canada West dominates men's volleyball. It's not just Toronto, either: we've seen impressive play from Western, Guelph, Laurier, Ryerson and Waterloo this year. That aforementioned Top-10 list of Rob's included three OUA teams (Mac, Queen's and Western), which would have seemed ridiculous to me last year or earlier this year. Now, I'm not so sure that they don't deserve to be up there.

The setup: As mentioned above, the season records drastically favoured McMaster. Recent results for both sides were poor, though. McMaster lost their first match of the season 3-2 to Queen's on the road on January 10 and then got swept by Western at home on the following weekend. In between, they beat lightweights RMC and Windsor, and they swept Waterloo and Laurier on January 24 and 25, but they were looking weaker than they had in a long while. Toronto hadn't won a match since their January 9 win over Waterloo, but they did push the 11-4 Western Mustangs to five sets on the road on January 23, which is never an easy task.

The game: It wasn't an easy win for the Varsity Blues. They took a close first set 27-25, but dropped the second set 25-19, so it looked like the momentary misstep might not come back to hurt McMaster. Toronto dominated the third set by a score of 25-14, but they fell apart and lost the fourth set by the same score. The fifth set was a pitched battle that came down to a couple of key mistakes by McMaster, according to the release; trailing 11-9, they were called for a line violation and then hit the ball long on their next attack, putting Toronto up 13-9. The Blues hung on to win 15-11.

The star: Second-team All-Canadian left-side hitter Steven Kung of the Varsity Blues, who put up 15 kills (including the Blues' final five kills) and seven digs. Kung leads the OUA in kills (262), kills per game (3.91), points (298) and points per game (4.45). Honourable mentions to rookie right-side hitter Mike Manning (13 kills, five digs) and fifth-year left-side hitter Jessi Lelliott (10 kills, 10 digs).

The aftermath:
This didn't have a huge effect on McMaster, as they rebounded to beat the 9-8 Ryerson Rams in straight sets the next night (Ryerson was missing one of their top players, Oleh Kovalchuk, due to academics, though [Scott Novoselski, The Ryersonian]). They did fall three spots to seventh in this week's coaches' poll, but they're still fourth in the RPI. Toronto built on their momentum, though, beating the 10-7 Guelph Gryphons in straight sets the next night to improve to 8-10 on the year. They're in eighth place at the moment, but only two points back of the Rams, who currently sit in the sixth and final playoff spot.

The four honorable mentions:

Women's basketball: Cape Breton 85, UNB 65 [Cape Breton Athletics]

Why it's notable: CIS-leading scorer Kelsey Hodgson went off for 46 points, setting a school record. It was the highest point total in the AUS since Carol Turney of Saint Mary's dropped 50 against Mount Allison in 1976 []. She also went 9 of 12 from deep, 7 for 7 from the line and chipped in six rebounds. Rob described her game as "far and away the best individual performance by anyone this year." She was named the CIS female athlete of the week for her efforts.It was also a nice win for the Capers, who moved up from 10th to 9th in the coaches' poll this week. They're 11-3 in AUS play and first in the conference standings (but haven't yet cracked the RPI, so that's probably a weak schedule: that would also explain why second-place Memorial is ranked ahead of them in both the coaches' poll (7th) and the RPI (tied for sixth).

Men's hockey: University of Regina Cougars 3, University of Alberta Golden Bears 2 (shootout) [Braden Konschuh, Regina Sports Information Director]

Why it's notable: It's not every day that you see the top-ranked team (3rd in RPI) knocked off by an unranked squad (Regina didn't make the coaches' poll or the RPI). The Cougars took the lead 81 seconds in off a goal by Kyle Ross and led for most of the game, but Alberta scored two in the third (sandwiched around a Regina goal by rookie forward Ryan Sawka) to send the game to overtime. The overtime was scoreless, but Ross notched the only goal of the shootout to give the Cougars the win. Adam Ward made 34 saves for the Cougars during the game and added three more stops in the shootout. This didn't have a lasting effect, though: Alberta pounded Regina 7-2 the next night to restore balance, and the Golden Bears stayed in the top spot in this week's coaches' poll and third place in the RPI.

Women's volleyball: Laval Rouge et Or 3, Montreal Carabins 2 (set scores: 25-20, 25-17, 18-25, 20-25, 15-8) [CIS box score]

Why it's notable: This was one heck of a battle, and it resulted in Montreal taking their first loss of the year to fall to 20-0. Laval had been the best Quebec team behind Montreal for most of the year, though. The win moved them to 14-7 and kept them in second place, one match ahead of 13-8 McGill. They were third in RPI going into this one and 10th in the coaches' poll. Marie-Christine Mondor led Laval with an impressive 24-kill, four service ace performance (but she also made 16 attack errors on 61 kill attempts, lowering her kill percentage to a still very good .390). Setter Sarah Létourneau-Lévesque also had a big night with a team-high 18 digs and 46 assists.The Rouge et Or showed that momentum apparently doesn't apply to them; a night earlier, they were swept in straight sets [CIS box score] by last-place Sherbrooke (10-11 in conference play and out of the coaches' poll altogether, but Rob's RPI had them at a prescient eighth). Sherbrooke finished off the weekend with a four-set loss to McGill, so we really could see anything happen come QSSF playoff time.

Women's hockey: Queen's 3, Guelph 1 [Chris Thompson, Queen's Athletics, also see Amrit Ahluwalia's piece in the Queen's Journal]

Why it's notable: Queen's struggled recently, dropping their first four regular-season games of the new year [myself, Queen's Journal]. They partially turned it around last weekend with a split with Brock, but not too many were expecting to see them beat 15-4-2 Guelph (fifth in the coaches' poll, seventh in RPI). Still, they turned in a solid effort and knocked off the Gryphons with three third-period goals from Cassie Sparks, Kelsey Thomson and Amanda Morra. It will be interesting to see what happens down the stretch, but the Gaels were more impressive Sunday than they have been for most of the season, and they could be a dangerous first-round opponent if they keep playing like this.

Other notable games:

-St. Mary's 5, UNB 4 (men's hockey)
-Alberta 4, Manitoba 0 (women's hockey)
-UBC 91, Calgary 76 (men's basketball)
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