Everything is ready to go for the 2015 CIS Championships, but first, here's a little preview of what you can expect this weekend!
No. 4 Montreal vs. No. 5 UBC - 1:00 p.m. EST
This classic east vs. west battle will get the tournament started right on Thursday afternoon. The RSEQ Champions will be hungry to prove what they can do against the UBC Thunderbirds who have been in the past seven National finals, winning six-straight until falling to Manitoba last year. For Montreal, this is their 9th trip to the tournament in the past 10 years- missing out last year after being upset by Laval in the RSEQ finals.
Montreal is led by a trio of outsides: Marie-Alex Bélanger, Marie-Sophie Nadeau and Vicky Savard. All three can be lethal and give setter Katia Forcier plenty of opportunities to spread the offence. Montreal has consistently been one of the top serving teams in the country and this year is no different, finishing eighth in the CIS with 168 aces as a team. Led by Forcier, Montreal's serving will need to be the toughest it's been all season if their going to push the perennial powerhouse.
On the Thunderbird side, whenever you've got 5th-year Lisa Barclay in the line-up, you've got a shot. The Thunderbirds bounced back from a tough loss to Alberta in the Canada West semi-final to overcome UBCO, and still have their eye on the prize. In addition to Barclay, CanWest second-team all-star Danielle Brisebois will get a boost by playing in front of family and friends in her home province. Rosie Schlagintweit will be tough to slow down on the right side as well. She led the T-Birds with 737 attempts this season, making good on 313 on those.
No. 1 Trinity Western vs. No. 8 Laval - 3:00 p.m. EST
After a disappointing loss to Dalhousie in last year's quarterfinals, the Trinity Western Spartans are here to prove they can win a CIS title. They've already proved they can win, by capturing their first Canada West banner last weekend, but this one is for all the marbles. First opponent on the path to the final is last year's bronze medalists- the Laval Rouge et Or.
The Rouge et Or and led by a veteran core including outstanding outside-hitters Valérie Lemay (4th year) and Esther Gilbert (5th year). Having middle-blocker Alyssa Fields-Bouchard carry a bulk of the load as well gives setter Émilie Ducharme plenty of options to be creative with. Laval averaged just over 14 digs a set throughout the regular season, and will have to come up big defensively if they want to medal for a second-straight year.
Canada West champions are ready to prove to the country what they can do, no more so than standout middle-blocker Alicia Perrin. Arguably the most physical presence in the CIS, Perrin knows how to get it done at the net. Her 234 kills and .328 hitting-percentage make most defences and her CIS-leading 135 blocks on the season is a nightmare for hitters. Worse is the Spartans have other weapons as well, like third-year Sophie Carpentier who led Trinity with 285 kills on the season and averaged four points a set. With ball control being an issue now and again, the Spartans will look to the Moncks sisters to calm things down. Both in their fifth-year, Kristen will take care of the first contact wearing the different jersey while Lauren will run the offence.
No. 3 Toronto vs. No. 6 Dalhousie - 6:00 p.m. EST
A brand-new facility, CIS hosts and a roster packed with veteran talent, the stars seem to be aligning for the U of T Varsity Blues this year. After four excruciating years of should-haves and close calls, they've family made it, not only as the host, but the OUA Champions to boot. Things don't get any easier though, as they match-up with a Dalhousie team who fought tooth and nail to make it this far.
On un-familiar territory and in front of a hostile crowd, the Tigers will have to figure out how to manufacture points against a Varsity Blues squad that finished second in the CIS for digs. This young squad will be led by AUS First Team All-star Anna Dunn Suen. Averaging just under three kills per set, she's going to have to find a way to score to give Dalhousie a chance. The veteran presence on the team could be the catalyst for something bigger. The only fifth-year on the team, Alexandra Hudson started her career as a Varsity Blue and was even beach partners with U of T's Charlotte Sider. What better way to go out than playing spoiler against your old team?
The Varsity Blues have a bevy of talent and they know how to use it. OUA Player of the Year Charlotte Sider recorded her 1,000th kill in their win over Western and after four years of OUA disappointment, she's ready to perform on the next stage. Her beach-partner Denise Wooding brings a calming factor to the court, commanding the defence and serve receive, while middle blocker Bojana Radan brings a lot of energy and fire to the squad. Suiting up for one last crack is right side Jen Neilson, who can settle things down for the host when things get a little hectic.
No. 2 Alberta vs. No. 7 Ottawa - 8:00 p.m. EST
One of the most intriguing match-ups of the CIS Championships, having the No. 2 seed doesn't mean an easier game for the Golden Pandas. The Ottawa Gee-Gees may have started the season slow, but with their only loss of 2015 coming to Toronto in the OUA Final, their peaking at the right moment.
Ottawa is one of the best serve-block teams in the CIS, hands-down. A veteran team making their third consecutive appearance in the CIS, they have the size and the athleticism to break some brackets. With three players (Kelsie English, Alix Durivage, Kira Tome) in the Top Five in serving in this country, they will get you out of system in a hurry and have top-level talent to put the ball away when you give them a free-ball. The English twins are undoubtably leaders on the court, but Kaly Soro is a firecracker known the steal the show while averaging 3.1 points a set.
Holding the top spot in the country all year long, the Pandas slipped to number two after their loss to the Spartans, but are no less deadly. Canada West First team all-star Meg Casault will lead the charge for the Pandas, something she's used to doing after scoring 316 times this season. Mariah Walsh is the key and runs a masterful offence from pretty much anywhere on the court. One Pandas looking to have a breakout tournament is rookie Josephine Doerfler, who comes all the way from Germany. Formerly of SC Potsdam of the Bundesliga, this 6'4 outside hitter knows how to put the ball away.