CIS: Men's Championship Day 1

Laval gathers after a point in front of a packed home crowd during their 3-1 win against Alberta Photo: Canadian Interuniversity SportI can’t think of a more exciting first day at the CIS Men’s Volleyball Championships. Who would have thought that the dominating conference at in the semifinals would be the OUA. Here’s a recap of what went down yesterday.

#3 McMaster vs. #6 UNB – 3-0 (25-23, 25-17-, 25-14)

The day started off as expected with McMaster taking down UNB in straight sets. The Reds came out firing in the first set, and pushed McMaster all the way to the limit, but the Marauders endless array of weaponry quickly overpowered UNB in the final two sets.

Jori Mantha led McMaster with 10 kills, four aces and 3 block assists for 15.5 points, although his 9 hitting errors and .040 hitting efficiency could cost the team later on. McMaster’s ability to spread the offense to every position will be deadly moving forward. The rookie from Norway, Elvind Andersen led the Reds with 11 kills. Expect to see his name in years to come at more CIS Championships.

#2 Trinity Western vs. #7 Western - 2-3 (28-26, 25-23, 29-31, 25-27, 9-15)

To anyone who knows anything about Canadian volleyball, this match at first glance was almost a guarantee. Trinity Western, the two-time defending National Champs, were loaded with talent, and were led by Ben Josephson, who’s quickly emerging as Canada’s top coaches.

In the first set, down 24-20, the Spartans rallied behind the serving of Nick Del Bianco to come back and take the set 28-26. Although the comeback was impressive, I think everyone at this point as learn not to EVER count TWU out,  but I thought it spoke more towards Westerns ability to let important matches slip out of their hands. Even in the second set, with Western pushing hard, Trinity kept their composure and took it 25-23.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Western fought back. Led by Justin Scapinello, who led all players with 29 points (26 kills, 1 ace, 4 block assists), Western stormed back, taking the next three sets.

At times, Trinity seemed utterly dominating. Lucas Van Berkel seemed to be in a complete league of his own, raking up 19 kills on 24 attempts, for an astonishing .750 hitting efficiency, but Western’s never-say-die defense (Sean McKay led the match with 20 digs, while three other Mustangs got double-digit digs) and their unwillingness to make costly errors executed what may be called one of the biggest upsets ever at the CIS Championships.

#1 Brandon vs. #8 Montreal – 3-1 (23-25, 25-18, 25-19, 25-20)

Imagine a CIS where no representatives from the CanWest conference were in the semifinals? Well after the first set of this match, that seemed to be a possibility. Instead, the point-scoring machine that is Sam Tuivai took a hold of the match. With 28 kills and a block, he generated almost half of the Bobcats points.

I think we can all agree that Montreal is the weakest team at the Championships this year, but did Brandon really deserve the #1 seed? I guess it’s just one of those questions that will never be answered.

#4 Laval vs. #5 Alberta – (15-25, 25-22, 25-21, 27-25)

For all intensive purposes, this should have been the final. Sure, both teams had some problems in their respective conference playoffs, but was it really ever a question that both these teams were the cream of the crop? Neither team (until this week) dropped below 3rd in the country. Both teams held extensive unbeaten streaks, and both teams are made up of some of the best players in the country.

Regardless, the storied rivalry between the Rouge et Or and the Golden Bears, East vs. West, French vs. English, was once again taking center stage, and what a match it was to watch.

Alberta was dominant in the first set, showing why all year that had been ranked #1 in the country, and showing that they probably should have received the top seed for this tournament.

But the one thing that the Golden Bears seemed to lack was passion, and where Alberta was lacking, Laval had an abundance of it. Of course, having home court advantage, with stands packed full cheering for you may have helped, but the Rouge et Or played with a fire that could only come from their French culture.

Whether it was libero Jonathan Thibault-Bernier diving across the court to dig a ball, or Bruno Lortie running around the court after kill (honestly how this kid didn’t make the All-Rookie team is a question for the ages), you kinda got the sense that even if Brazil was standing in front of them, Laval would have found a way to win the match.