Men's Volleyball: Breaking Down the Top 10 - Welcoming the Gaels and Praising the Bobcats

The final CIS men's volleyball top 10 has been released, and it sees the inclusion of the playoff-bound Queen's Golden Gaels at the expense of the eliminated Winnipeg Wesmen. Meanwhile, the UBC Thunderbirds plummet after another unsuccessful weekend.

A link to the official CIS top ten can be found here. Updated SRS and RPI rankings can be found here.

Welcome to the Show

#10 Queen's Golden Gaels (SRS: 13 RPI: 7)

It's been a long wait for the Gaels this season, but Queen's finally enters the national rankings in the last week. The Gaels were a victim of their slow start, which saw them lose three of their first four matches this season and forced the Kingston squad to claw back into Ontario's upper echelon. The tricolour team has done just that, and is undoubtedly the form team in the OUA at the moment having won six straight. That winning streak included triumphs over divisional rivals Western and Windsor, and Queen's reeled off five straight sweeps after a five-set win over York on Jan. 15.

Entering the OUA playoffs as the third seed, the Gaels will host the Guelph Gryphons in a quarterfinal slated for Saturday night.

On the Outs

Winnipeg Wesmen (SRS:9 RPI:16)

The entry of the Gaels into the top 10 spells the end of the line for the Wesmen, who are unsurprisingly dropped from the national rankings after failing to hold on to a postseason berth in Canada West. With a bye in the last weekend of conference play, Winnipeg was forced to watch as the UBCO Heat snatched away the final playoff seed. That must be a bitter pill for the Wesmen to swallow, but with a final record of 7-13, they probably shouldn't have expected much otherwise.

On the Move

UP: #6 Calgary Dinos (SRS: 6 RPI: 13) and #7 Brandon Bobcats (SRS: 7 RPI: 14)

DOWN: #8 UBC Thunderbirds (SRS: 8 RPI: 11)

The Dinos and Bobcats benefited from another losing weekend on the part of the UBC Thunderbirds to leapfrog the west coast squad into sixth and seventh respectively. To be fair to UBC, the move down probably should have happened a week earlier, rather than coming in the wake of two losses to a Trinity Western team that has dropped only one match all season. Either way, the Thunderbirds are on a downswing at the worst possible time, and will now be faced with a tough quarterfinal match up against the Alberta Golden Bears.

The Absolutely Unofficial Caldwellian Rankings (CR)

#1 Trinity Western Spartans (19-1) (SRS: 1 RPI: 1)

The Spartans lay the smack down on the slumping UBC Thunderbirds this past weekend in yet another demonstration of their strength atop the Canada West standings. With Trinity Western enjoying a bye through the first round of the conference playoffs, it's very difficult to see a situation in which the defending national champions aren't hosting the Canada West final. Fans of the Spartans will have been glad to witness a dominant weekend for Rudy Verhoeff, whose role has been somewhat diminished this season with the reintroduction of Steven Marshall to the lineup and the blossoming of Dan Janssen van Doorn.

#2 Manitoba Bisons (18-2) (SRS: 2 RPI: 3)

The Bisons are kicking ass and taking names, and look for all the world like the one team that could derail Trinity Western's bid for a second consecutive national title. Of course, we know from past experience (and horribly blown predictions) that business end of the year almost never goes according to the script. But Manitoba rolled through their final weekend against the Huskies, and they got a lot of love in this year's player rankings. I fully expect the Pischke tribe to steamroll the debutant Heat in round one and lock up their ticket to Kingston without much in the way of fuss.

#3 Alberta Golden Bears (15-5) (SRS: 3 RPI: 5)

This three-spot is a tough one, and I heard a fair amount of grief from those in the know in my neck of the woods over my decision to stubbornly hold Alberta above Laval (allegations of Francophobia may have been uttered). Who knows? Maybe I am secretly a giant bigot and all of this is one Ontarian's meaningless attempt to stick it to the Quebecois.

But I still believe that when push comes to championship-contending shove, Alberta likely has more pedigree and team-wide skill than the Rouge et Or. Mitch Irvine has proven his ability to carry the offensive load time and again, while Taylor Hunt has raised his game as a senior with the additional reps seen this season. The wildcard is Jay Olmstead, but with his versatility and experience I expect him to produce in the postseason.

#4 Laval Rouge et Or (17-0) (SRS: 4 RPI: 2)

Despite my relative lack of confidence in the Rouge et Or by comparison to the west's top teams, there's no doubting the talent possessed by Laval. Karl de Grandpre is the best pure hitter in the country, and rookie outside Tommy Belisle has proven able to play off of him effectively. The aspect of their game that may decide Laval's ability to overcome the powerhouses of Canada West is their middle attack. If Micael Girard can direct some of the defending attention away from the perimeter, the Rouge et Or could finally bring the CIS championship trophy east of Manitoba.

#5 Western Mustangs (16-2) (SRS: 5 RPI: 4)

The Mustangs continue to wait impatiently as the OUA sorts itself out around them. Despite a misstep against Queen's, there's no reason to believe that Western will lose any of the competitive edge that saw them boss the conference all season long. It will be up to the Mustangs' competitors to prove that the season closing loss was more than a flash in the pan.

#6 Brandon Bobcats (11-9) (SRS:7 RPI:14)

This spot will be another bone of contention for those few people who read this column. Both the official CIS rankings and the scarily accurate SRS have Calgary occupying this space ahead of the Bobcats. With the team's set to play each other in a Canada West quarterfinal this coming weekend, we'll soon see which team is the better candidate for a national championship berth. While I see arguments for both, I hold Brandon higher in my estimation at the moment because the Bobcats appear to be a team on the rise at the best possible time.

Playing a very tough Alberta team at home, Brandon managed to split their weekend series. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, their recent run of form wasn't enough to secure home court against the Dinos, who snag that honour on the basis of their sets won-lost differential (+5 vs. +3)

#7 Calgary Dinos (11-9) (SRS:6 RPI:13)

That last detail is my biggest cause of concern in ranking the Bobcats above the Dinos. Was this series to be played in Manitoba, I would very quickly chalk it up for Brandon. But home court advantage is a very real thing, and one that holds a particularly powerful influence in Canada West, where travel is such an arduous process. The format of the conference playoffs however - mandating best-of-three series rather than the one-offs played in the OUA - typically works to counteract those travel challenges.

Calgary showed strong form in their closing contests with Regina, but over the course of a three-match series I believe that Brandon has the tools to overcome them. It's the sort of tight match up that will probably end with pie on my face, but that's my call.

#8 UBC Thunderbirds (10-10) (SRS:8 RPI:11)

Earlier this year, UBC's hot start had myself and many other observers believing that the Thunderbirds could pose a legitimate challenge to the upper echelon in Canada West. Oh how the mighty have fallen. UBC's offensive output beyond veteran outside Robert Bennett has dried up, and the result has been a struggle to compete with the better teams in the conference. A tough final section of the schedule saw the Thunderbirds go a paltry 3-7 in their last ten matches, and their eventual finish in the sixth seed means that UBC will have to travel to Alberta and attempt to take out the Golden Bears in the quarterfinal stage.

Good luck.

#9 McMaster Marauders (15-3) (SRS:9 RPI:6)

The Marauders continue to be a bit of an enigma as the playoffs begin in the OUA (this coming from a guy who covers them on a weekly basis). At their best, the Maroon and Grey have smashed some of the toughest opposition in the conference (just ask the Lancers and Warriors how they've fared against McMaster). At their worst, the Marauders looked absolutely unable to compete with the Western Mustangs. While Saturday night's quarterfinal against the York Lions is hardly a formality, any semblance of form should see the Marauders past the Torontonians and into the Final Four.

But it is there that the Marauders' ability to learn from their mistakes will be tested. In the wake of their latest loss to Western, McMaster's players preached adaptability in the face of the Mustangs' tried-and-true tactics. Will such adaptation be enough? Only time will tell.

#10 Queen's Golden Gaels (12-6) (SRS:13 RPI:7)

The Gaels have quietly hit a red-hot patch of form at the business end of the season, and enter the OUA playoffs as the form team of the conference. The backbone of Queen's success continues to be their incredible defensive ability in the back court, feeding added repetitions to veteran hitters Joren Zeeman and Michael Amoroso. Guelph will pose a decent quarterfinal test, but the Gaels will be confident of a return to the OUA Final Four and the prospect of yet another date with the aforementioned Marauders. Can Queen's finally break what has become a bit of a McMaster curse? My partisan heart hopes not.
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