by Brett Hedges
The Lance – Sports Editor
The Windsor Lancers women’s volleyball team ended their season in the opening round of the OUA playoffs but they did not go out without a fight.
Head coach Lucas Hodgson and his scrappy Lancers squad fell to the nationally ranked McMaster Marauders 3-0 in the OUA quarter-finals in Hamilton this past weekend Feb. 26 but took their opponents and those in attendance at the Burridge Gym on an electrifying three-set ride they won’t soon forget.
After dropping the opening set 17-25, the Lancers and Marauders embarked on a journey of emotional high and lows in a marathon second set where the two squads combined for 70 points. McMaster fought off a pair of set points from 22-24 to drag the teams into extras before outlasting Windsor on seven additional set points and finally taking the second set 34-36. The Lancers fought back from a 20-10 deficit in the third but could not take the lead, ultimately falling 22-25 and heading into the off season – but with their heads firmly held high.
The middle duo of Melissa Smyth and Shannon Dean did their part for the Lancers with 11 and 10.5 points respectively but Windsor struggled to get their offence moving as a team against the Marauders, with a hitting percentage of 14 per cent. Jade Zeibarth and Carleigh Bailey led the way defensively with 11 and 10 digs.
Fifth year setter Lauren Stirling said she was very happy to see the team put up a strong fight against a nationally ranked opponent and with how the season went for Windsor, registering 11 wins for the first time under Hodgson.
“I thought we did a great job right from the start – we challenged them,” Stirling said. “Although the outcome wasn’t what we wanted we fought until the end. The second set was unfortunate the way it went but it really tested us as a group.”
After scoring the first five of six points on the night, it was undoubted Windsor was prepared for the occasion at the Burridge Gym. The Marauders worked their way back into the set and overtook the Lancers at 12-10 after Taylor Brisebois capped a four-point run with a kill. Errors put the Lancers further behind as Brisebois reeled off a service run to push Mac ahead 23-14 and ultimately ending the set five points later.
The Lancers hung tough as the second set began and took advantage of service errors from the Marauders. Smyth brought her team within two at 16-14 at the technical timeout after an ace capped a five-point run. Windsor came out of the timeout firing and took a five-point lead but Mac had other ideas, battling back from 22-24 deficit to force extra points. From that point the set evolved into a classic, with the teams playing high-level volleyball, which electrified those in attendance.
After dodging three more set points, Mac enjoyed two of their own but could not get their final point to fall. Windsor had another set point at 30-29 but failed to capitalize. In total, Windsor saw nine set points go before falling to Mac in an ironclad second set 34-36.
Momentum was firmly in Mac’s corner and they went out to a commanding 9-3 lead in the third and carried a 10-point lead into the technical timeout before the Lancers engineered a late fight back. After digging themselves into a 10-20 hole, Windsor put together a 12-4 run but it was too little too late, as Mac ended the night on top 22-25, ending Windsor’s chance at the OUA Final Four after an 11-8 regular season record.
Dean and Durand walk away from the Lancer program as Hodgson’s first pair of recruits he signed when he left the Brock Badgers program and ventured down south to Windsor. After coming back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat the York Lions on seniors day at Dennis Fairall Fieldhouse Feb. 7, Hodgson gave Dean and Durand full credit for being a key piece to the team’s success this season as well as over the past four.
“They were the first recruits I brought in so they were a big part of where we are today,” said Hodgson. “If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be where we are today. Shannon played light outs and pretty much led the team [all year].”
On that day Durand said 2015-16 was her favorite season because she and her teammates became so close. Looking back on her four-year career, Durand said she and Dean were happy to be able to put their stamp in Windsor women’s volleyball history.
“This season was our choice to show was Windsor really is,” Durand said. “We’ve always been considered the underdogs and we always seem to get overlooked so it’s nice to finish our time here showing we were able to make a difference.”
Hodgson won’t lose all three of his graduating seniors however as Stirling will now transition to the next phase of her career in volleyball as an assistant coach while she completes her masters degree at UWindsor. After a playing career featuring an OUA first team all-star in her four seasons as a Brock Badger, Stirling said she is excited about joining Hodgson’s staff next year and being part of the development of the women’s volleyball program this point on.
“I’m not ready to be done with volleyball yet so I think helping to coach will be a great transition from playing,” Stirling said. “I’m really looking forward to next year and being a part of the coaching staff. I think it’s the start of some really great things for the program in the future. This year was really nice for me personally to finish on such a good season with a great program.”