Regular readers will remember that I identified the RMC women's volleyball Paladins as a potential riser in the second half of the season.
How's that going? (And why is this worth talking about?)
Good questions, both. To answer the first one: 2-5 at the time of the above article, they've since won four of eight to put them at 6-9 (not 0-15), and they sit in fourth place (not last). The playoffs are a real possibility for this team. I'm not saying they'll go very far once they get there, or that it means anything to be fourth out of seven in the OUA East, but don't discount that accomplishment.
Why shouldn't you? That's the second question: this is incredibly rare for a RMC team, both making the playoffs and simply not rolling over for everyone on the schedule. To see just how rare it is, you have to read on. (At your peril. You've been warned.)
Before we get into it, I want to make it clear that none of this is meant to mock RMC. While you do have some responsibility to make the matches competitive when you choose to field a team in university athletics, there's only so much you can do in their case. Everyone else in the league could potentially recruit every high school player in the country, but the military college teams are limited to those open to a career in...well, the military. (Not to mention that being a cadet at RMC is a little more intense than being a student in, say, the adventure studies department at TRU.)
You must take the Paladins' struggles in the proper context.
And yet. The wins and losses still count. So here I am, adding them up for as many RMC teams as I could handle before despair set in. If there are any small children reading this, get them a juice box and send them off into another room somewhere. It's not going to be pretty ... actually, we're not even fortunate enough for this to achieve "ugly."
Let's start the countdown. In descending order of regular-season record (not including any in-progress seasons):
OUA record since 1999-00: 71-200-11: (.271)
Playoff record: 3-12
Last playoff appearance: February 16, 2006 (6-1 loss vs. UQTR)
Last playoff win: February 23, 2001 (5-0 vs. Queen's)
Commentary: Hockey's low-scoring, so it's easier to grind out a 1-0 or 2-1 win now and then. And hockey is kind of popular in Kingston. So this makes sense, hockey being the most successful RMC sport. Besides, if there was any OUA sport that RMC would be halfway competitive in, it's the one with the kooky point-awarding system, and the one with the kooky divisional setup (until recently). Even then, they have just a .271 record and at least ten years between playoff victories (our Neate Sager actually covered that game for the Queen's Journal, is how long ago that was).
This year: 4-22 with a pair left to go. They just swept a weekend against Ryerson (OT win) and Toronto (winning goal at 54:57). I would not want to be Ryerson or Toronto right now.
OUA record since 2004: 13-62-11: (.227)
Playoff record: 1-1
Last playoff appearance: October 27, 2007 (6-0 at Ottawa)
Last playoff win: October 24, 2007 (2-0 at Queen's)
Commentary: Here we have the last time RMC made the playoffs, or won a game in the playoffs.
Thankfully for us, though not for her, friend of the blog Kate McKenna was on the wrong side of that playoff win and took time out of her soul-crushing job to share what it was like. Though she didn't play in that game (she and the other goalkeeper alternated starts that year), she remembers how "it was a classic example of not being able to predict success based on statistics and also of just how significant the mental side of the game is. [...] Their early goal combined with a goal relatively early in the second half were more mentally damaging than anything else."
Kate then pointed out how RMC's 6-0 loss to Ottawa a few days later reiterated "the fact that it wasn't at all that they were a solid team skill-wise who just couldn't get it together until playoffs, but rather that they capitalized on timely opportunities and played a smart 90 minutes [against Queen's]."
This year: They went 3-9-4. At least they scored a goal per game (see next entry).
OUA record since 2004: 6-55-15: (.178)
Playoff record: 0-0
Commentary: I have nothing insightful to say.
This year: 0-14, scoring six (six!) goals all season.
OUA record since 2000-01: 31-189 (.141)
Playoff record: 0-2
Last playoff appearance: March 5, 2004 (56-43 loss vs. York at Carleton)
Commentary: Thank Capt. Kevin Dulude, champion for life, for men's basketball being .141 and not .041. Or worse: in the years without Dulude, they've gone 1-109. No wonder they retired his number.
There is talk of changing the basketball schedule, one minor benefit of which would be that RMC's travel partner, Queen's, wouldn't always face a rested team on Saturday, or a team that can afford to go all-out on Friday.
This year: 0-17, averaging half as many points per game as Carleton (46 vs. 90). No, really.
OUA record since 2004-05: 3-117 (.025)
Playoff record: 0-0
Commentary: Better get used to "point-zero-something" winning percentages.
Actually, outside hitter Sean Vanthournout was worth 16 points as a blocker last year, and one win overall (37th overall in CIS); nobody else on the team was above-average.
This year: 0-16, winning just seven sets. Vanthournout is apparently still a block machine, though.
OUA record since 2004-05: 1-113 (.009)
Playoff record: 0-0
Commentary: And here we are. Not quite the worst, mostly because one's losses are generally (and mercifully) bounded by one's number of games played, and women's basketball has played more. But never mind the matches won and lost: in 2007-08, the women's volleyball team didn't even win any sets.
Like with the men, last year RMC actually had a legitimate player: Melissa McCoy came in at 51st overall, also worth about a win above average, also the only above-average hitter on the team.
This year: And now you see why making the playoffs is a Big Deal. After one win in six years, they have six wins and counting. McCoy's hitting percentage is currently 21st in CIS and 7th in the OUA; it will be interesting to see where she lands in this year's rankings.
OUA record since 2004-05: 1-131 (.008)
Playoff record: 0-0
Commentary: Until this year they had just one win in six years (why does it seem like I've typed that an awful lot lately?). That win was in February 2009, and it was covered without anyone expressing any outrage at 34-year-old Paladin Sharlene Harding. (That's a slam on the drive-by media's selective memory with respect to older CIS athletes, not on her or her decision to play.) Harding was ranked 89th in PER that year; Jennifer Donofrio was ranked 21st the year before. In '09-10, they had nobody higher than 285th. I didn't even know I ranked 285 players.
This year: They've actually won a game, at home against still-winless Waterloo. Was it a good game? Wasn't there, so can't say for sure, but it was the first league game for both teams, so there's that, and it was the first CIS game for many first-year players on both sides. The Paladins and Warriors combined to shoot 63% from the line (wait, what?), an effective field-goal percentage of 34% (is that even possible?), and they played in front of a recorded attendance of zero (which...I actually believe).
So what have we learned today? We've learned that RMC has a lot of winless seasons. (I counted 22 out of 51, but I was reaching a point near the end of this where logic and math no longer apply.) We've learned that, Limestone City Miracle aside, they have not enjoyed a playoff win in these sports since February 2001. We've learned not to do this unless you have a cold, refreshing beverage close at hand.
And we've learned that what's happening with the women's volleyball team this year is virtually unprecedented.