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Bold ready to battle top-seed Marauders in OUA quarter-final

The playoff season is officially upon us in the OUA.

But for the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold men’s volleyball team, it was nearly over before it even started. 

Last Friday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Bold stunned the nation’s No. 2 ranked team and the previously undefeated McMaster Marauders in straight sets with a 3-0 win (25-18, 25-16, 25-23).

It was an improbable victory and a fitting home floor farewell for a trio of graduating seniors in Saad Shaikh, Lhexen Rabit and Omari Young — and a win that they thought was good enough to send the team back to the playoffs.

Postgame, Bold lead assistant coach Niko Rukavina gathered his staff and players before belting a passionate proclamation about the excitement of playing playoff volleyball. The atmosphere amongst the team was palpable.

But despite a ‘pre-mature’ social media post indicating the team was in fact ‘playoff bound,” a ticket had not yet been punched.

So on Sunday afternoon, the team gathered together, while Rukavina sat down in his home alongside his wife and son, as separate watch parties each tuned into the stream of a matinee between the Nipissing Lakers and Western Mustangs. 

The Bold’s unified hopes of clinching a postseason appearance through receiving help on the out of town scoreboard thanks to a Lakers win turned out to be a prayer that the Volleyball gods left on read.

“We were pretty depressed there for a couple of hours thinking our season was over,” said Rukavina, who went on to send the obligatory elimination text to his team’s group chat.

Three hours passed by after the game, as the team was left to decompress what they had just watched and reflect on the season that was suddenly over. Then Rukavina got a call from a conference official — the tiebreaker was misinterpreted. They were in fact in the playoffs. 

He proceeded to race right back to the group chat.

“They were fired up. I told them they needed to be at practice Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. and they were like oh — but because it’s been Reading Week they were all here nice and early. We’ve had a great week of practice” said Rukavina. 

“It was a roller coaster of emotions forsure.”

Perhaps the highs and lows of this past Sunday perfectly encapsulate the theme of the Bold’s season thus far.

A victory over the York Lions back in January, a five-set win on home court against the Toronto Varsity Blues, and of course, the aforementioned three-set triumph against McMaster were all euphoric.

But in the midst of the success has been disappointment. A pair of marathon, five-set losses at the MAC to the Waterloo Warriors stand out as lows that fairly left those to wonder what the team’s fate would look like. Was the postseason really in the cards? 

“In my five years here — the win over U of T and the win over McMaster, those are probably two of the biggest wins we’ve had. But you combine that with some of the losses — that’s where it gets frustrating,” said Rukavina, who pointed out the team can often have a high ceiling, but a low floor.

Yet while consistency hasn’t been the team’s strong point, here they are. Rukavina’s goal at the start of the season was to be in the playoffs. the Bold have the right to fight for the Forsyth Cup.

Next up is another meeting with those same Marauders. This time, Saturday’s matchup will take place at the famed Burridge Gym in Hamilton, Ont., which is set to play host to the 2023 U SPORTS Men’s Volleyball Championship later this winter.

“I feel like we still know that it’s McMaster and we still know it’s going to be in their home gym and they’ll have everybody going. We still know it’s going to be a tough matchup. But I feel like we’re kind of on borrowed time this week after thinking we were out — now we’ve got some light,” said Rukavina.

The meeting is one between the OUA’s No. 1 and No. 8 seed. McMaster’s 18-2 record has them pitted as the nation’s third-ranked team entering Saturday.

Yet Rukavina has preached to the team that the postseason is a new season. Records that you’ve spent all season on improving are good for nil.

But it’s difficult to ignore the history in analyzing the matchup. The Marauders are often referred to as the cream of the crop in the conference and have won seven of the last nine Forsyth Cups awarded, dating back to the 2012-13 season. Meanwhile, the Bold are looking to punch the program’s first ticket past the conference quarter-finals since 2018.

If the Bold are hoping to play spoiler and ruin the fairytale script the Marauders are hoping to write around a pair of banners being hoisted in Burridge, they’ll likely need big evenings from both Jacob Walker and Alex King. The pair of standouts both sit inside the conferences top-ten in kills with 259 and 208, respectively.

Rukavina believes the key is encapsulating the same energy the team had one week ago. Galvanized on senior night, the group rallied behind the likes of Rabit, Shaikh and Young, who could possibly play their final OUA game on Saturday.

But as the old saying goes, you have to beat the best to be the best. Saturday serves as that chance.

“I think it’s an opportunity to show that we can beat anybody,” said Rukavina.

First serve from Hamilton is slated for 8:00 p.m. All the action can be seen on

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