Coach Lawson finds his silver lining

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While you were enjoying the winter break, the men&rsquo;s volleyball team were back at work getting prepared for their final stretch of the regular season. Waterloo held an invitational tournament between Dec. 29 and 31, hosting Dalhousie, Queen&rsquo;s, and Winnipeg. Each team played each other once in best of three matches as a way for teams to reboot their programs and face unfamiliar competition outside of their conference.&nbsp;</p>

These were exhibition matches that did not count towards each team’s record but teams still played competitively. “There’s no prize, they just want good matches against good competition,” said men’s volleyball head coach Chris Lawson. The Warriors finished with a 3-0 record defeating each team. “There’s a winner declared, which was us, but it’s not a big deal,” said Lawson.

The Warriors will need as much preparation as possible for the second half of the season, since it will be one of the toughest stretches the program has faced in a long time. 

Coming into this season the Warriors had high expectations as they looked to repeat their participation in the CIS National Championships. In the first half of the season the Warriors finished with a 7-4 record — two of those losses being handed to them by currently undefeated McMaster, one from a tough Queen’s team, and one coming from a disappointing five-set match against Nipissing.

Going into the holiday break, the team was on pace to make it to the OUA playoffs with a 7-4 record, but on Dec. 23, 2015 UW Athletics announced that the Warriors would have to forfeit four of their wins due to the participation of an academically ineligible player who has not been named. 

Between Nov. 12 and 28, the player played in five games, four of those resulting in wins which were forfeited. The Warriors defeated RMC on Nov. 27 but the player did not participate in that game so that win is still valid.

According to section 40.10.3.2 of the CIS Eligibility & Recruiting Rules, “A student-athlete must be enrolled in a minimum of three courses in the term in which they are competing within CIS” The unnamed player was in three courses during the Fall 2015 term, but proceeded to drop one without realizing he would no longer be eligible to participate in varsity athletics. 

He then proceeded to play in five more matches before the athletics department discovered about his ineligibility. “There is no mechanism for the OUA or CIS to catch this but as soon as we knew we self-reported immediately and knew automatically we were going to lose those four games,” said Lawson.

The player initially thought he only needed to take a minimum of six courses between the fall and winter terms but did not realize he needed a minimum of three courses for each semester.  According to Lawson, the unnamed student took three courses in the fall term, dropped one, and was scheduled for five courses in the winter term, giving him a total of seven courses, which led him to believe he could still play. “It’s an obvious disappointment, mistakes are made and I’m convinced it was an honest mistake,” said Lawson. 

With these forfeited wins, the Warriors’ record dropped to 3-8 which puts them on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.

The top seven teams in the conference make the playoffs and the Warriors are currently in 10th place out of 11 teams. Fortunately enough, Western, Nipissing, and York — who are in fifth, sixth, and seventh place, respectively — each only have five wins. Plus, with nine regular season games remaining, the Warriors still have a great chance of making the playoffs.

The remaining schedule works in the Warriors’ favour, as instead of facing off against first-place McMaster, they mostly face opponents who would have worse records were it not for the forfeited wins. 

Regardless, Lawson knows that the team’s room for error is currently at an all-time low. “We think it’s very reasonable for us to go 9-0 in the second half. That was our goal initially anyway, but now we just can’t allow ourselves to play poorly and let a game drop. We’ve lost our safety net, it’s going be interesting how guys perform with constant pressure,” said Lawson.

Despite their change in record, Lawson sees this newfound pressure as a silver lining for the team to improve as a whole. With the program being so successful the last few years, the majority of current starters never really had to deal with losing. 

“In their first year they got to the semi-finals of the OUA so they won a lot of games. The second year we made it to nationals and they won a lot of games. They’re kind of taking winning for granted a little bit,” said Lawson. “If they can rebound from this life lesson and develop some extra toughness as a result of it, this is going to make our eventual peak higher.”

The Warriors look to get back in the win column as their season resumes Jan. 15 in a game against the Ryerson Rams in Toronto.

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