Volume 96, Issue 77
Friday, February 14, 2003

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Roller-coaster ride hits bottom

By Jordan Bell
Gazette Staff

Ian Howes/Gazette
AFTER YEARS OF USING "JUMP SHOES," HE FINALLY GOT HIS HEAD OVER THE NET. Mustangs libero John Hong leaps during Western's loss to Guelph.

Just when it appeared the Western Mustangs men's volleyball team was going to pull another one of its Herculean comebacks, two middle blockers put up an impenetrable wall.

The University of Guelph Gryphons 6'5" rookie middle Matt Peters and 6'4" veteran middle Gabe Ho had a huge impact on the match. They blocked the first three points of the fourth set and finished the set with six blocks combined to lead the Gryphons to a three sets to one victory (25-17, 25-23, 20-25, 25-15) in front of an energized playoff crowd at Alumni Hall Wednesday night.

The victory gives the Gryphons a 1-0 lead in the best of three Ontario University Athletics semi-final.

Guelph head coach Doug Dodd agreed that his middles were paramount to the significant victory.

"A lot of what [Chris Simek, rookie right side and leader in kills in the nation] gets is because of our middle guys. Peters is a rookie and is getting a lot better and Ho, in his last year, is extremely focused," Dodd said.

The match was extremely tight throughout the first three sets, with the Mustangs seemingly gaining momentum as it progressed. Unfortunately, they were not able to force the Gryphons on their heels in the fourth set, quite possibly the result of the Mustangs' recent hectic schedule.

The Mustangs defeated the McMaster University Marauders, and their former head coach Dave Preston, on Feb. 5 to secure a satisfying playoff berth. Then, in a barn-burner at Queen's University in Kingston on Feb. 8, the Mustangs vaulted back from two sets down to defeat the Golden Gaels to advance to the semi-finals.

"We've been on an emotional roller-coaster," said Mustangs head coach Jim Sage, concerning the intensity of his squad's schedule. "It was almost impossible to get to the level of intensity we needed to beat Guelph."

Fortunately for Western, they still have the opportunity to do what they do best: sway the tide and storm back into contention.

Sage was able to take the victory with an open mind, sarcastically expressing the key to the Mustangs' rematch in Guelph on Friday. "We definitely want to score more points," Sage joked, while adding, "Our backs are against the wall again."

The fans in attendance, especially the row of girls taunting the Guelph players with cries of "you're hot," were treated to an extremely heated match. Like David and Goliath, Mustangs right side Jeff Mattingly and Simek squared off in an arm-strength duel for the ages. Unfortunately, in this contest, Mattingly was David and Simek played the role of Goliath.

"It's a product of a long-standing rivalry between us," said Western left side Rob Arntfield. "Dodd has been around a long time and instills [passion] in his boys. They're two very passionate players," he added, regarding Mattingly and Simek.

Even casual bystanders got into the action when Mustang Brian Cram, a player who was inconspicuously absent for the first three and a half sets, blocked a Simek kill and then performed the "stare-down finger point."

The Mustangs (like Mattingly) may have been the small, meager David in their Wednesday showdown, but remember, David was eventually victorious in the end.

The Mustangs hope scripture holds true to form.

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