Gryphon volleyball men take aim at OUA medal

Rob Massey, Guelph Sports Journal

GUELPH – The Guelph Gryphons will play for a medal next weekend at the OUA men’s volleyball league’s Final Four tournament at McMaster.

“The Final Four, who would’ve dreamed it,” Gryphon coach Cal Wigston said moments after the Gryphs defeated the Nipissing Lakers 3-1 in a quarter-final match at the Guelph Gryphons Athletics Centre Saturday. “If you would’ve told me this last year, I would’ve laughed at you. I would’ve said, ‘Yes, we want to be in the playoffs. Thank you.’ I would’ve said, ‘Yes, we want to be in the playoffs.’ But to be in the playoffs and to win our first home game and to win the first playoff game in here is outstanding.”

The game was Guelph’s first playoff appearance since 2012 and its first playoff win since 2011.

“I’m so excited and I’m so happy for this group of guys,” Wigston said. “They’re such a great team – such a great team and they genuinely love and care for each other.”

The Gryphs, second-place finishers in the West Division, defeated Nipissing, third in the East, 3-1. The hosts won 26-28, 25-19, 27-25, 27-25.

“The key today was serve and pass – see who could win the serve and pass game,” Wigston said. “We served well, but we missed a bunch, but we passed very well. They’re so big and physical on the outside, but we shut down their middles and we just made life tough for them. That was really, really good.”

The Gryphs will play the Waterloo Warriors in a semifinal match Friday at 5:30 p.m. at McMaster after Waterloo, fourth in the West, surprised the East’s first-place finishers, the York Lions, Saturday with a 3-1 victory.

The Gryphs figure on having two solid practice days prior to the semifinal. They’ll likely have a fairly light workout Monday with stretching and serving and passing being the main things on the agenda. Tuesday will be a solid effort and Wednesday will be making sure everything’s right with their game play and Thursday will be a lighter effort with the semifinal set for Friday.

“We’re just so excited,” Wigston said. “A year ago it was looking like Oh my goodness, we’ve got to do something to turn this program around and you know what, the guys have really, really stepped up. Guys like Kenny Kerr who Nipissing did a great job on handling him in the first two sets, but then all of a sudden he just decided ‘I’m going to win’ and he did.”

The Gryphs finished 10th last season at 6-14 when the league operated as a single, 11-team division. They were seventh at 9-11 in 2014-15, ninth at 5-15 in 2013-14 and eighth at 6-12 in 2012-13.

Friday’s other semifinal has the Ryerson Rams, second in the East, playing the McMaster Marauders, first in the West, at 8 p.m.

The medal games are to go Saturday. Game times have not been determined.

Against Nipissing, the Gryphs recovered from a slow start in the first set with a 12-3 run to shoot ahead. However, they led 24-21 but couldn’t put the set away as Nipissing went on a 7-2 run to win.

The hosts never trailed in the second set before a back-and-forth third set saw the Gryphs prevail by scoring seven of the final 10 points. The fourth set was similar to the first as the Gryphs got the score to 24-21 before Nipissing scored four consecutive points to go up 25-24. Guelph responded this time, though, with three straight points to win the set and the match.

“We’ve been in those tough games before in those tight situations and we’ve learned from it,” Wigston said. “We’re appreciative of those things. Right before the match we got together and we do it every week – we talked about what we’re grateful for. We practise the art of being grateful which I believe really makes you get into a better state of mind before you play. One of the things the guys said is that we’re just so grateful that we’ve been able to play some tough games and get us ready for this point. And that happened.”

Zach Newman had 20 kills, one ace, 11 digs and two blocks for the hosts while Kerr had 12 kills, two assists, two aces and five blocks, Jared Harris had 13 kills, one assist, two aces, 11 digs and three blocks, Sam Nothnagel had eight kills, one assist, one dig and three blocks, Josh Green had nine kills, one assist and eight digs, Sam Kloke had two kills, 45 assists and 13 digs, Kaj Wigston had two assists and six digs and Kyle Richards had three assists and two digs.

Steven Wood had 17 kills, nine digs and one block for Nipissing and Lyndon Sonego had 13 kills, two assists, five digs and two blocks, Cameron Branch had 10 kills, one ace, nine digs and five blocks, Warren Taylor had three kills, one assist, two digs and 11 blocks, Jack Peckham had three kills, one ace, four digs and four blocks and Nathan Charron had 43 assists, 15 digs and four blocks.

The Gryphs played Waterloo twice during the regular season and they won both matches 3-0 with victories at Waterloo Nov. 10 and at home Feb. 3.