The defending champion and top-seeded Trinity Western Spartans rolled into the semifinals with a straight sets victory over the No. 8 Waterloo Warriors on opening day of the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men’s Volleyball Championship at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
A day after being named U SPORTS Player of the Year, Trinity’s multi-faceted outside hitter Ryan Sclater rained down a match-high 12 kills as the Spartans wrapped up a 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-23) victory in the opening match of nationals.
That might have been fine for Waterloo if Sclater was all the Spartans brought to the table, but their attack was set nicely by Adam Schriemer, who finished with 30 assists and 2.5 blocks, earning Player of the Game honours for the Langley, B.C., institution.
“It’s exciting to get going, for sure,” said the fourth-year Winnipeg product. “You want to get that first game over with, get the tournament going.
“It’s exciting and we’re happy to get a win under our belts and advance. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”
Aidan Simone led Waterloo with seven kills, while Matthew Mawdsley chipped in 1.5 blocks.
Trinity Western will meet the winner of No. 4 Laval and No. 5 McMaster, taking place Friday, in Saturday’s first semifinal (6:30 p.m.).
To get the first win out of the way is always a relief, even if you’re the favourites.
“You know what, we lost to Western two years in a row in this quarter-final a couple of years ago,” said Trinity Western head coach Ben Josephson. “Ever since then, every time we see and OUA opponent, we get a little bit nervous. You don’t know them and everyone’s awesome at nationals.
“We’re exhaling now because once you’re in the semifinal at this tournament, everybody’s awesome. Now it’s a matter of taking a deep breath; we’ve got a long time to recover before tomorrow’s semi. We’re really excited to see if we get a rematch with Mac or if we get to play Laval.”
As is often the case in volleyball, No. 1-ranked teams don’t necessarily obliterate you. They simply execute a slow burn that you really can never extinguish.
That was exactly what transpired in the first set as Trinity Western just had too much for Waterloo over time. Too much Blake Scheerhoorn on the left. Too much Sclater on the right. And too much of the U SPORTS Rookie of the Year Eric Loeppky from the serve line.
The set started and ended with Sclater points, his last a sublime leap into orbit from the back row to smash the ball untouched into the right back corner.
Trinity found its rhythm in the second set, practically gaining two points for every one that Waterloo managed. It ended when the Warriors went long on the pipe play.
“They’re a good team, so they kind of dictated the tempo of the match in Sets 1 and 2,” said Waterloo head coach Shayne White, whose team advanced to nationals as the runner-up out of the OUA after a 9-8 season.
“They started passing a little poorly in the third set and that allowed us to get our defence going. It’s an experience.”
Indeed, the Warriors got their first glimmer of hope in the match in the third set when they held 21-18 and 23-20 leads. They seemed poised to continue the proceedings until Trinity rattled off five straight points – the majority off of big blocks – to steal it away.
“What makes our team great this season is we have a lot of different ways of scoring points,” said Josephson. “We were a good side out team. We sided-out 88 per cent in the first set. You’ll never lose with that.
“The second set I thought our service game was good and we made some really good transitions. Our third set, I thought our blocking picked up. Our side out game wasn’t great. So we made some timely blocks, especially from Loeppky at the very end.
“All great teams have to find ways of scoring points in all phases. At this stage, everybody’s really good and everybody’s well coached, so they’re going to continue to adapt.”
For Lawson, it’s the third time his Warriors have bowed out in the first round at nationals, but there are always takeaways.
“Every time you come back here, you’re coming closer and closer to winning the first round, so we’ll keep trying to come back – this is three years in a row for us,” he said.
“I thought our composure was better than it has been in the past. Our block defence has been fantastic and was good again today. We’ll try to build on that.”