Saturday March 5th, 2011
Langley Events Centre
Langley, British Columbia
Saturday held the two Men's Volleyball CIS National Championship Semi-Finals. The respective winners of Brandon vs. Laval and Trinity Western vs. Calgary get a chance to play for the National Championship on Sunday. The CIS National Championship, since there are no professional leagues for indoor volleyball in North America, crowns the absolute best volleyball team in Canada. Depending on the year in NCAA volleyball, the CIS Championship could crown the best team in North America. It came as no surprise that three of the four remaining teams represented Canada West, as each year they tend to dominate.
Laval Rouge et Or vs. Brandon Bobcats
Laval represented the only team outside of Canada West that remained in contention. Though they sat atop the CIS National Rankings for the majority of the year, often pundits claim that their rank is inflated by playing poor competition. Realistically, they do only have two other RSEQ teams as competition, and otherwise spend most of their year playing against AUS teams. Playing in a pressure cooker like Canada West should likely entail a better rank. However, once again Laval managed to sit right at the top of the standings all year. The Brandon Bobcats, who just won silver for all of Canada West last weekend, had plans to bring Laval back to earth.
Right away these two teams brought an intense level of volleyball. Audience members could tell something large was on the line as these two teams fought for National Championship contention. Early, Brandon tried to streak out to a lead. However, Laval's 1 Frederic Desbiens had other ideas. Desbiens came out on fire, putting away a hard backcourt attack, followed by joining a teammate for an emphatic double block. He also managed a large solo block against Brandon's 5 Paul Sanderson. Though Brandon looked good initially, Desbiens eliminated any lead.
Not to be outdone, Bobcats' 8 Kevin Miller put away a solid kill from the left side of the court to retain a lead. Though every rally became a hard fought affair full of digs, Brandon managed to keep a couple points ahead of Laval. Brandon pulled ahead further with an ace from Sanderson, followed by a nice dump on the second touch by Bobcats' setter 4 Kyle Dellezay. Sanderson added a kill afterward to punctuate the run, as the lead extended to 13-9.
Laval stormed right back. Brandon's passing gave a couple overpasses, and the Rouge et Or were only too happy to shove the ball back down the Canada West team's throat. The effort was enough to bring the game within one, but not to take a lead.
Desbiens, who kept Laval in the set early with incredible play, cooled off down the stretch. He missed his serve with the game tight, and soon after missed a backcourt attack to give Brandon a 21-17 lead. A team as tough as Brandon, especially in a game so important, aren't about to give away any easy points down the stretch. Paul Sanderson finished the strong set with a kill through the block, followed by a tip that lands between Laval players as Brandon won the first set 25-20.
The second set featured a lot of the same elements as the first. Brandon's attack relied heavily on strong play from Sanderson and Miller. The two of them, as usual, came through. For Laval, Desbiens still struggled to find his early swagger. Luckily, 4 Karl De Grandpre stepped back into his usual role as impact player. After Desbiens was blocked a play earlier, De Grandpre came in with his middle to execute a tandem attack. Since the middle player jumped a split second earlier, the Brandon block was nowhere to be found when De Grandpre came in right over his teammates shoulder.
Next, De Grandpre put up a huge block against Miller. Mr. Miller wasn't to be outdone, as his next attack went for a point down the line. Sanderson added a kill from the right side to push the slight lead to 13-10. Again, this was a tight affair. Never did a team pull ahead by any significant margin. Another kill from De Grandpre even narrowed the gap to one point.
Down the stretch, the set was up for grabs. A Miller attack that floated long almost tied the game at 21-20. However, Laval's Desbiens gave the advantage back by missing his serve. On the next play, Desbiens had a ball lightly floating towards him. Instead of setting the ball as one normally would, he elected to drop his hands and play it off his head. I still don't know the rationale, but it didn't help his team win the point.
Brandon put together a run at the end. Sanderson, who got blocked initially on set point, managed to dig his own error. He was rewarded immediately by getting set again, which this time he hammered home from the backcourt. With that 4-0 run, Brandon took the second set 25-20. No team led by more than three points until the final Bobcats streak.
The third set changed gears somewhat and featured middle players prominently on both sides of the net. Laval's 15 Jeremie Lortie put forward an array of quicks early in the set. For Brandon, it was 16 Brendan White putting down hard quicks and coming up with blocks. Once again, Brandon took an early lead but a marginal lead at best. Lortie put away a series of three attacks in the middle of the set to put Laval in a position to strike. However, with the game tied 19-19 he missed his serve. He was the fourth Rouge et Or player to miss a serve in the third set, while Brandon hadn't yet missed a serve.
Brendan White made his way back into the front row, and destroyed a Laval overpass for a point quickly. Next, he managed to force a quick through the Laval block. Laval's De Grandpre managed to score an attack off the Brandon block, but the Quebec team faced a 23-21 deficit with their backs to the wall. White made an error serving, Brandon's first of the set, to give Laval new life at the end of the third set.
With White liberoed off after serving, Brandon's other middle 9 Dan Boutwell stepped into a key role. First, he smashed a quick around the block to give Brandon match point. On the next play, he ran a perfectly executed fundamental quick to win the point, set, and match for Brandon. The third set was the tightest, with Brandon ending up ahead 25-23.
With the three set victory, the Brandon Bobcats put themselves into the National Championship Finals. Canada West will go for a sweep of the medals, as Laval will have to fight against another tough West team in the Bronze Medal Match at 3:00 pm PST Sunday. The Gold Medal Match will take place 6:00 pm PST.
Trinity Western Spartans vs. Calgary Dinos
The marquee match of Saturday had to be TWU vs. Calgary. The two teams had met just a week ago in the Canada West Final Four. Calgary came out victorious against the Spartans in the semi-finals, but it took five sets of tough volleyball to do it. Calgary went on to be victorious in the Canada West Gold Medal Match, and now held the top rank at the Nationals with one match between them and gold. Trinity Western had revenge on their mind, and now they had the advantage of playing in their hometown of Langley surrounded by loud home supporters.
Though the crowd wasn't as flat-out insane as yesterday (as in there was less cross dressing and full body paint), they still managed to bring enough noise to act as a factor. Trinity Western's 12 Lucas Van Berkel came through with a solid quick early, after an extended rally that featured digs from both teams. The point put the Spartans ahead 9-4. Van Berkel connected with another quick shortly after as he began heating up. Spartans' 11 Rudy Verhoeff then snuck an ace in between Calgary players, and Van Berkel put up a huge block on the next play to give Trinity Western a solid lead eary.
The lead blew open to 18-9 as the Spartans continued to dig everything thrown their way. Calgary still played like a team vying for a National Championship, but Van Berkel was simply too much. He contributed to three blocks in a row to end the set 25-17 in favour of Trinity Western.
Calgary found their groove in the second set. Middle player 6 Graham Vigrass began to find a rhythm that worked for him. Vigrass was recently crowned CIS MVP for the year. However, he doesn't play a dominating or recklass style, and instead elects to make smart decisions and appropriately places his shots. A block and a quick early on put the Dinos ahead by a five point margin.
The rallying cannot be done justice without it being seen. These teams really put forward high level volleyball, and with a different tournament bracket, these two teams easily could have been competing for the gold medal. One rally showcased Dinos' player 3 Curtis James diving so hard into the scorers' table that he turned on a fluorescent light. Soon after, another player went flying into the same table and turned that light off. The wild digging really forced the volunteer towel girls to earn their pay, were they do be earning any salary.
Calgary ran away with their early lead based on Vigrass' strong play. A 5-1 run ended the set 25-18 in favour of Calgary, and suddenly it looked like the crowd was in for another five-set epic.
Trinity Western opened the third set by going back to what worked in the first: Lucas Van Berkel. He put away two attacks early to give Trinity Western a slight lead. Calgary's 18 David Egan tried to make a statement in return. First he put down a huge kill than was barely an inch past the Spartans' attack line. But on the next set, TWU timed him perfectly and roofed the middle player to retain their lead.
It looked like the Spartans were poised to run away with the set, ahead 19-14. But Calgary, determined not to let anything go easily, pushed right back and brought the set to within one point at 19-18. However, they didn't do themselves any favours as Curtis James missed his serve. With that, James was substituted off the floor in favour of 8 Blake Giles. Down the stretch, the Spartans' Rudy Verhoeff was the difference. He put away two huge kills down the line, and won the eventual set point off of Calgary's block and way beyond their reach. Trinity Western put themselves one set away from victory with the 25-23 set.
Calgary's 10 Allen Meek had a less-than-impressive third set. He missed two serves, and also got blocked a couple times by a tough Spartans defence. The fourth set would paint a different picture. Meek put away multiple kills from the right side to give the Dinos the early advantage they had been looking for. An ace from Egan capped a 6-2 run that managed to put Calgary ahead 19-12. Trinity Western's Verhoeff put forward an effort that regained some Spartans dignity, but the set was too far gone. Meek put an attack off the Spartans' block and out to finish the set 25-20 in favour of the Dinos.
And just as it went last week, these two Canada West powerhouses faced a fifth set to decide who would take on the Brandon Bobcats for the CIS National Championship. The crowd never sat for an instant, and continued to do everything in their audible power to push their team over the edge. Verhoeff came into play early with two kills. When combined with a Van Berkel ace, the Spartans were able to pull ahead 4-1 early. In a set that ends at 15, the early lead is paramount. A big Spartan block rattled Calgary a bit, and forced their serve receive to provide an overpass. Spartans' 5 Joshua Doornenbal happily smashed it to the ground as Trinity Western went into the turn ahead 8-4, six points from the finals.
Calgary's Vigrass did what he can to tighten the gap with a backcourt attack for a point. David Egan also put away a quick for the Dinos as they clawed their way back into the final set. However, it wasn't to be. Just as the first set began, Van Berkel became a crucial player in the final frame. A cheeky tip from the middle player landed between Dinos defenders to go ahead 12-8. Next, he put away a quick after the Dinos couldn't handle a hard Spartans serve.
On match point, everybody in the entire building rose to their feet. Though Calgary defended the first point, it wouldn't last. Van Berkel came through with a huge quick to win the set 15-9, and put his Trinity Western Spartans into the CIS National Championships.
Immediately, the crowd stormed the court to take in the celebration with their home team. It looked like a National Championship victory, and might as well have been one considering Calgary was the top ranked team in the country going into the weekend. Revenge is sweet, and now Trinity Western will have a chance to be named the best team in Canada while playing on their own home court. Congratulations to Coach Ben Josephson and his boys for doing it, and doing it with passion.