By Kirk Jessome
For the first time in the history of the Dalhousie men’s volleyball program, the Tigers made a run into the playoffs as members of the RSEQ conference this year.
The Tigers attack was led by third-year players Jeff Walton, Graham Schmuland and Kobe Shannon who finished sixth through eighth in the conference in kills per set, showing a balanced attack amongst the Tigers hitters. A middle blocker in his first seasons with the Tigers, Schmuland became a right-side hitter early on in the season.
“The change in our offence was a necessity, as we graduated not only our top attacker but our starting setter as well,” says head coach Dan Ota. “We had to simplify our offence while leaning heavily on returning players who had secondary offensive roles last season.”
The man responsible for getting those hitters involved was standout rookie setter Quinton Dowling. After coming off the bench early in the season, Dowling was impressive down the stretch for the Tigers, finishing third in the conference in assists per set.
“We just needed to give Quinton enough time to develop the technical tools to be effective at this level,” says Ota. “Most of the great players in our program’s history were starters in their first year so I think he’s on track to do some special things with us.”
After sitting out last season due to injury, Harrison Callaghan was key for the Tigers defensively, ending up third in the conference in digs per set, helping to turn defence into offence.
The Tigers started the regular season with two losses to Montreal before going on a three-game win streak that included two back-to-back five-set match victories over UNB. Heading into the holiday break, the Tigers sat in the middle of the RSEQ conference with a 3-5 record.
They dropped a double-header to Montreal on the road to start the second half before earning two victories at home against Sherbrooke in early February. The Tigers ended the regular season with four consecutives losses to Laval and UNB.
The new format was an adjustment for the Tigers this season, with added travel and regular back-to-back games most weekends, but Ota says that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Beating a good team on consecutive days is really tough to do in our league, as teams are always making adjustments from one match to the next. There’s a lot to like in our new format.”
Finishing with a record of 5-11, the Tigers were able to hold on to the final playoff spot as the fourth-seed and faced Laval in a best-of-three semifinal series in Quebec.
Going up against top-seeded Laval, the team ran into some offensive troubles in the first match, falling 3-0 to the Rouge et Or. The Tigers rebounded and took a 2-1 lead in the second match of the series, but Laval came out on top to take the match 3-2 to end the series.