The host, and No. 7 seed University of Alberta Golden Bears took out their Canada West foe, No. 2 ranked Manitoba Bisons 3-1 (25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 25-16) in the third quarter-final of the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men’s Volleyball Championship, Friday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
The win sends the Golden Bears to their fourth straight national championship semifinal, and guarantees the host will play for a medal on their home court. They will await the winner of quarter-final #4 between the No. 3 UBC Thunderbirds and No.6 UNB Varsity Reds. Manitoba, meanwhile, is relegated to the consolation side, and will play the loser of said match.
Fifth-years Ryan Nickifor and Taylor Arnett led the Bears with 15 kills each, while Arnett added 3.5 blocks, four digs and three aces to be named Alberta’s Player of the Match.
“Our coaches challenged us to lay it out on the line.” said the fifth-year middle. “This is my last year, and that is exactly what I did. I just wanted to keep playing. (The crowd) is unbelievable, I heard stories about the last time we hosted, and how the loud the crowd would be. It’s just so awesome to see so much green and gold out here. Every time we get a point, everyone was on their feet.”
Devren Dear paced Manitoba with a game-high 16 kills on 42 attempts, adding four digs, but also committed nine attack errors on Friday. Manitoba was plagued by inconsistent offence, totalling 26 errors.
“Well I don’t think we performed very well, our serving pressure was very weak today. Our spike servers didn’t do a good job.” said a disappointed Garth Pischke, head coach of the Bisons. “If you do that against a team like Alberta, with their middle attack, as everybody saw, they killed us in the middle. We needed way more serving pressure to take a part of that game away from them.”
Despite being ranked five spots lower than Manitoba in the championship, the Golden Bears were ranked near the top of the U SPORTS Top 10 all year long, and showed that pedigree in the first. The win is also the first for Alberta this season against their Canada West foe.
“I thought we did all the little things we needed to do. We blocked well, knowing they were going to be a predominantly outside hitting team, which they were.” said Alberta bench boss Terry Danyluk. “We did a good job of serving them, and forcing them to do that. I thought we did a good job at serving and passing today, which at this level is the key to the game.”
Thanks to a pair of kills from Arnett, the Bears jumped out to a quick 4-2 lead. Arnett continued to pace the Alberta attack in the first, as he and Nickifor led after one set with four kills each.
Another 5-2 run by the tournament host gave them complete control in the first. The Bears were able to take advantage of an efficient first, and the thunderous support of the home crowd, scoring 13 kills on just 24 attacks, while Manitoba struggled with eight on 21, adding five errors.
The momentum earned in the first, as well as the support of the 2,000 fans, propelled Alberta to a 7-4 lead in the second. Another kill by Nickifor gave the No. 7 seed a lead of as many as seven midway through the set. However, the Canada West silver medalist Bisons returned to form in the second, ripping off a 13-6 run, evening the set at 21. Six kills from Dear, as well as two from each Dustin Spring and Adam DeJonckheere levelled the match at 1-1 with a 25-23 Bisons win.
The intense back and forth match didn’t let up whatsoever in the third, as this time it was Alberta who went on a 10-3 run to open the third. Powered by 10 kills (four from Nickifor) and seven blocks, Alberta looked in control at 17-12. Another late-set surge, however, gave Manitoba life, as a Ken Rooney kill cut the deficit to 21-18. Two kills from Alex McMullin late pushed Alberta over the top at 25-21.
Alberta’s offence, which had been stellar through three, was absolutely lethal in the fourth, as a staggering 67 per cent attack efficiency gave them the set 25-16, and the match. The Bears, thanks to four more from Nickifor and three from McMullin, spun in 13 fourth-set kills, while committing just one attack error.
“We were just more consistent. I thought we had moments against Trinity Western last weekend in the conference semi were we played similar, but we didn’t sustain it for a full match,” continued Danyluk. “Today we did that.”
The semifinal between Alberta and UBC/UNB is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton.