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Thunder men struck down

Setter Costa Solanakis (12) sets the ball to right side Mike Adams (13) for the kill.

BY CASSIE DRESCH

It was a tough way to go down.

After a season of domination and success, the Algonquin Thunder men’s volleyball team were brought to their knees as they left the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association provincial championships in North Bay, Ont. disappointed and empty-handed.

The Thunder posted an outstanding 19-1 record during the regular season, their first and only loss coming almost three months into the year against Loyalist College on Jan. 28. They went on an incredible 15-match winning streak and made mincemeat of their opponents in the process, losing a grand total of five sets in that span and eight sets on the year. The men rang in the new year with a remarkable championship victory at the TimberTown Invitational Tournament at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alta. from Jan. 2-4. They defeated the host Cougars in five sets to claim the championship before returning to Ottawa to continue their season and claim the East Division as their own.

The men’s regular season success did not go unnoticed by the OCAA. Left side and captain Joshua Harris as well as left side Alexandre Corsi Caya were both named East Division First Team All-Stars at the Championship Breakfast held at The Davedi Club in North Bay. Middle Craig Toonders, libero Dean Johnson and setter Costa Solanakis were all also named East Division Second Team All-Stars. Head coach Doug Anton was given the distinction of East Division Coach of the Year for helping guide his team through their unforgettable season.

The stars looked like they were aligning for the Thunder. Going into the provincial championships, they were ranked seventh by the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Assocation. Algonquin’s last OCAA gold medal was in the 2008-2009 season and it looked like it could possibly happen again this year as they headed to Nipissing University.

But it didn’t.

Despite declawing the Sheridan Bruins in three-straight sets on the opening night of competition, the Thunder went on to lose 3-0 against the host Nipissing Lakers. In a bronze medal semi-final battle between the one- and two-seeds in the East Division, the Thunder lost 3-1 to the Seneca Sting, effectively ending their hopes at receiving a medal.

The game against Sheridan was a close one throughout the match (25-21, 25-19, 25-21). Player of the game for Algonquin went to Corsi Caya who recorded 14 kills and two service aces. Harris, who also had a strong game, made 13 kills.

Anton said that he felt player of the game could have gone either way.

“I think it was hard to pick one over the other as far as top performance,” he said. “Alex passed incredibly well tonight and did his job in that position. Josh I think hit some of the best he’s hit all year and blocked really well too.”

“I was satisfied today,” Corsi Caya said of his performance on the 23rd. “I’ve been struggling in the last quarter, finding my game, maybe overdoing some stuff and not being satisfied with what I was doing. I think tonight I said ‘screw it’.”

Unfortunately, their win wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Anton said the team still had a lot of work to do.

“We just need to be a little bit tighter and a little bit cleaner in a lot of our play,” said Anton. “We need to make sure with our serving that, especially when we’re putting multiple serves together, we don’t help the opponents out by missing.”

The loss to the Nipissing Lakers was a tough one for the team. The match (25-21, 25-17, 25-23) saw Nipissing simply overpower Algonquin. The Thunder were always a step or two behind the Lakers and just couldn’t hold onto a lead in the third set.

“On one level it’s tough but it wasn’t a heartbreaking loss,” Anton said. “We got beat tonight. They played much better than we were. We didn’t have any answers.

“You don’t always win. We had a season where we’ve done far more than our fair share of winning so you have to take the good with the bad.”

Before heading back to the hotel, Anton had a few words of encouragement for his team who would face Seneca the next morning.

“Our time isn’t done,” he said. “Our best match is still in us. We need to find that match tomorrow. You owe it to yourselves to find that match. Let’s end this season properly.”

Despite the brief pep talk the night before, the Thunder could not pull together to find their best match. Even though they played “relatively well” according to Anton, Seneca beat Algonquin 3-1 (25-22, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21) to move on to the bronze medal game.

Setter Marko Bagaric, who was named player of the game for the Thunder, was justly upset by the way the championships panned out for Algonquin.

“I feel empty,” said Bagaric who is from Montenegro. “We had a good season and we lost two most important games in entire year. I feel we didn’t do the best job this weekend. But still we played well.

“It was a good season but still you have that feeling that you can do better. When you don’t win it’s not a good feeling right now. Still it was a good season after all.”

Middle Ian McAlpine repeated Bagaric’s sentiments, saying that they worked so hard for eight months towards the goal of winning only for it to be over so suddenly and having failed.

“I think it’s an example of a lot of teams coming together at the right time and we weren’t so lucky,” Harris said. “It’s kind of a roll of the dice to see if you’re really ready and when it comes down to it, we weren’t.”

“When it comes down to it I’m not going to remember medals or anything,” he continued. “It’s the time you spend with your teammates and watching everyone go through stuff together. I’m really proud of that.”

McAlpine also believes that provincials won’t mean much overall.

“When we look back on the season we wont think too much about provincials,” he said. “We will think about how we played around Christmas and how we showed we were one of the top teams in Canada.”

Setter Marko Bagaric (1) gets teh ball up for a kill while left side Aaron L'Ecuyer (6) and Maxim Sim (10) look on.

 

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