Friday March 4th, 2011
Langley Events Centre
Langley, British Columbia
Alberta Golden Bears vs. Trinity Western University Spartans
The third quarter-final match of the 2011 CIS Men's Volleyball National Championship was the first to feature host Trinity Western. The home team didn't fail to bring out a crowd. In fact, they brought out one of the crazier volleyball audiences I've ever seen for University volleyball. At least 400 people clad entirely in blue and yellow showed up to the Langley Events Centre. Some were entirely covered in body paint. One section of thirty some fans truly embodied the title "nutcase". They were wearing women's dresses to resemble spartans, were singing spartan songs, and were ripping the head off of a plush teddy bear. Where I sat, you were forced to stand amongst the other hundreds of supporters in order to see the floor clearly. And this was just a quarter-final.
The crowd immediately had an effect on the first set. The Alberta Golden Bears missed at least five serves early on as Trinity Western took an early 12-10 lead. The craziest of the audience members were standing right beside the Alberta servers in the opening frame. The giant section roped off for alumni, plus a marching band, hardly helped Alberta compose themselves.
One Golden Bear player went diving after a ball and ended up amidst the dense section of wild Spartan fans. Rather than being helped up, the fans continued to yell directly at him, and shook pompoms at his face until he managed to get back to his feet and return to the floor. The Spartans extended their lead to 19-15.
Alberta managed to tighten that gap with strong play from their left side players. Up until that point, Trinity Western had been effective in running a triple block constantly. These two teams met last weekend as they played for Canada West bronze. Trinity Western was the eventual winner, but the two teams know each other so well at this point that their game plans are essentially clockwork. When playing with confidence, the Trinity Western triple block is incredibly difficult to deal with.
At 22-22, the two teams broke into an obscene rally. The ball would go off blocks, through blocks, and it didn't matter as both teams would still manage a dig. There were hits that went unblocked that still were dug, and finally Trinity Western managed a kill to take a 23-22 lead. The point was great, but the energy that came with it was better. The set ended on an Alberta missed serve as Trinity Western took the first set 25-22 and their fans were on the brink of riot.
The level of volleyball during this match eclipsed everything seen previously at the tournament. It really acted as a display of Canada West's dominance at this event, as most observers would rank all the West teams in the top four, pushing Laval back to fifth unofficially.
The second set was an entirely different beast. Alberta stormed out early and often, and quickly found themselves ahead 17-9. But the Spartans weren't about to sit down with their home audience screaming in their ears. Two huge blocks and a giant kill put Trinity Western back in contention. After a 7-2 run, the score had tightened to 19-16.
Alberta called a timeout to compose themselves, and managed to put points together immediately after the discussion. Again, the lead extended as the Golden Bears inched closer to a set victory at 22-17. The rallies became longer and longer, with nothing coming easy. Neither team would risk an error, which had the effect of extending rallies as neither team overpower their attacks wide or long. The Spartans audience, even when their team trailed, refused to quiet down. Even when they faced set point at 24-19 the crowd continued. Trinity Western fed off it, and put together a small run to bring the set to 24-23.
Sadly, that's where the run ended. The explosion of celebration would have been an incredible event, but Alberta wouldn't have it. The Golden Bears won the next point to take the set 25-23, but the tone had been set. These two familiar rivals were ready to go neck and neck until a winner could be crowned.
The fourth set was another back and forth game between these two rivals. Neither team led by more than two points before hitting the 20 mark. It was a Trinity Western attack error that gave the set to the Golden Bears 25-21.
The fifth set started out with incredible blocking from the Spartans that gave them a 5-0 lead. The Golden Bears were unable to catch them, giving the home team, Trinity Western, the set and the match. The fifth set score was 15-11 Spartans.
The Spartans play the number one seeded Calgary Dinos in the championship semi final while the Golden Bears head to the consolation bracket with a game against Sherbrooke.