Gryphon volleyball men get back to winning and having fun

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH — The Guelph Gryphons have rediscovered their winning ways in the OUA men’s volleyball league by getting back to having fun on the court.

Friday night at the Gryphon Athletics Centre, the Gryphs swept the Waterloo Warriors 3-0 for their second victory since a long meeting following a uninspired loss at home to the York Lions last weekend.

“We had a long talk after the match (against York) and we talked about what we needed to do,” Gryphon coach Cal Wigston said. “It was actually very cool. It was our first-year kids that brought it up and said man, the side A team, that’s the starters, they just don’t look like they’re having fun. They don’t look like they’re enjoying what they’re doing. They said, “Man, you guys have got to learn to get along a little bit better together and really start to care about each other on the floor because it looks like you’re just not having fun.’

“So the older kids took that to heart and good on the older guys because in the past we would’ve had the older guys telling them where to go and how to get there.”

“We needed to come together more as a team and I think we did right away,” Gryphon right side Zach Newman said. “At the beginning of the season that’s what we did. We were always as a team and we were at high energy. When we started losing, that went away. After our long talk, we all finally realized that we’ve got to go back to our old ways and it’s working out for us right now.”

The Gryphs credit the players on their bench with helping the players on the floor keep their energy levels high.

“These kids really do such a good job,” Wigston said. “You see the energy our bench gives off. It’s so hard to do and it’s exhausting for them, but they do a great job.”

The Gryphs defeated Waterloo 25-14, 25-22, 25-22.

“After that first win against Nipissing (last weekend), I think the boys finally realized we are one of the better teams in the OUA,” Newman said. “I think everything clicked for us and down the last stretch of the season, I think that’s the way we’re going to play. That’s my hope for the team.”

Part of the reason for the pressure the Gryphs were facing might have come from trying to get their first victory in the new facility. The other three varsity teams — women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball — each had their inaugural wins in the new athletics centre while the volleyball men suffered three losses before sweeping Nipissing last Sunday, the day after the long talk following the loss to York.

“That could have been a factor, as well,” Newman said. “All of us loved the West Gym and finally getting the win in the new gym, it just felt great. We now realize this is our new home.”

“I think that has a good piece to do with it and I think there’s something to be said about that,” Wigston said. “I think the guys just gelling and playing well — we played phenomenal defence today. I was so happy with what our guys were doing on defence. We were picking up balls that we normally wouldn’t get to. We’ve been working hard on that all week.”

While the Gryphs swept the match, their team stats weren’t dominating except for their serving where they had 10 aces to three for Waterloo. The Warriors had 31 kills (two more than Guelph), six blocks (same as Guelph), 29 assists (three more than Guelph) and 29 digs (one more than Guelph).

Kendrick Kerr had 10 kills, three aces, four digs and four blocks for the Gryphs while Josh Green had five kills and four digs, Greg Olejnik had five kills and three aces, Zach Newman had four kills and two aces, Sam Kloke had 23 assists and four digs and Jared Harris had seven digs and two blocks.

Braden Cok had 10 kills and three blocks for Waterloo and Kevin Lebreux had eight kills and an ace, Aidan Simone had seven kills and seven digs, Matthew Mawdsley had four kills and four blocks and Nikola Dimitrijevic had 25 assists, an ace and 10 digs.

The Gryphs have five games to go in their regular season and they’ll clinch a playoff berth with their next victory.

The Gryphs are in the midst of a seven-game homestand and have not played a road game in 2017. Of the seven games they played in the 2016 portion of the schedule, two were home games and both were in their previous on-campus home, the West Gym. They won both.

The long homestand has allowed the Gryphs to get used to the nuances of their new facility.

“I was beginning to think that, oh no, this is not a good thing being at home this long,” Wigston said. “But getting used to the new gym — this is our home now and the guys are used to it now. We told them there’s no going back to the West Gym. This is our home now and I think they’ve really embraced it.”

“Home games are a good thing,” Newman said. “We love it here. Anytime you can get more Gryphons out to cheer, we bring more school spirit. We love that. That’s a big thing for us.”

The homestand continues next weekend with 2 p.m. home games against Windsor Feb. 11 and Western Feb. 12.