Mohawk pulls upset to make title volleyball game

Until recently, the month of February had not been too kind to the Mohawk Mountaineers, as they stumbled to the wire by dropping three of their final four regular season contests to finish sixth in the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association’s West Division volleyball.

But when the league calendar rolled into the post-season – where losses take on a renewed finality – they began playing like a team that wanted to re-write the narrative of their month and their season, defeating the Algonquin Thunder 3-0 (25-20, 26-24, 25-19) on Friday (Feb. 22) to advance to the OCAA Championship game for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

Photo: Sheridan College/OCAA

“That’s the one match I haven’t won as a coach. In five years, I’ve been in it three times and hadn’t figured out how to win it,” Mohawk head coach Matthew Schnarr said. “That’s the one that always made me nervous and I give credit to my boys. We set a game plan out there, we forced [Algonquin] to do things they weren’t comfortable with and we stuck to it.

“I’m really proud of my guys coming in [to this tournament] 9-9, sixth in the West, the eighth ranked team in Ontario and we’re playing for a gold medal tomorrow.”

Having once again used several different players – 10 Mountaineers saw action, with nine playing in at least two sets – Mohawk got contributions from different outlets and held the advantage from the attack line – 34-28 in kills – and defensively – 39-31 in digs.

Algonquin held a one-point edge in total offence (41-40) and marginal advantages in blocks (8-4) and aces (5-2).

Only two players – one from each side – posted double-digit scoring totals, with Mo Sulaiman from Mohawk (13 kills) and Philippe Yeldon from Algonquin (10 kills, two aces, one block) sharing a match-high 13 points.

“We looked our age,” Algonquin head coach Jay Mooney said. “Guys’ inexperience showed up in large scale, didn’t believe in what we’d been working on for the months that we’d been working on it, unfortunately. We’ve got to hope that tomorrow, they put that behind them. We’ve still got a big goal to play in a bronze medal game and for a chance to win bronze for this group is still a very achievable and proud goal of the team.”

Mohawk will meet OCAA West Division foe Nipissing in the title game, a club that won both regular season match-ups – winning 3-2 at home in November and 3-1 at Mohawk in January.

Schnarr understands that Nipissing has been on an equally good run since the post-season began and is comfortable embracing the underdog role.

“We’re the eight seed; we’ve got nothing to lose,” he said. “Everybody’s expecting Nipissing to walk in the gym and beat us 3-0. They’re a great team, it’s going to be a really tough match [and] we’re going to have to play the same way. We’re going to get some rest tonight, we’re going to enjoy it for a bit and then it’s time to re-focus for tomorrow. Hopefully the boys get some good rest tonight and we just come and play.”