Once the top-ranked team in the country, the Manitoba Bisons regrouped after a devastating opening-round loss to host Alberta and advanced to the consolation final at the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men’s Volleyball Championship with a straight-sets win over the UNB Varsity Reds, Saturday at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
The Bisons rolled to a fairly comfortable 3-0 win over UNB (25-20, 25-15, 25-22) that punches their ticket to Sunday’s consolation final, set for 12:00 p.m. MST against Laval.
Devren Dear led the Bisons with 13 kills and seven digs, while Ken Rooney’s 2.5 blocks were a game high. Evan Jackson, who has been the Bisons’ most dominant player at times this season, had nine kills, while Adam DeJonckheere chipped in eight and a game-high four service aces.
Eivind Andersen topped UNB’s output with 12 kills, while their own big No. 14 in the middle, Elliott Allison posted 2.5 blocks. Setter Mathieu Losier was named Player of the Match for the Varsity Reds after 27 assists.
With seven fifth-year seniors, the Bisons had championship aspirations all season after rolling to a 21-3 regular season record in the Canada West Conference.
When that dream fell off the rails with a 3-1 defeat in front of a raucous home Alberta crowd at the Saville Centre on Friday, head coach Garth Pischke didn’t know what to expect.
“It’s really tough. I had no idea how we were going to come out in this game,” he said of playing for the right to advance to the fifth-place game.
“I was hoping they would show a little bit of pride and pride in themselves as a team. Each guy, rather than just going out and playing hard, now they’re playing for their teammates and respect. We were relaxed,” said Pischke. “That allowed us to let the game flow and maybe be one or two plays ahead, rather than panicking in each situation. I thought we were a lot tenser last night.”
The Varsity Reds, champions of the AUS after a 9-8 regular season, suffered their own disappointment on Friday, falling in the first round for the third-straight year, this time to UBC.
“It’s very difficult, but there are no slouches at this tournament this year,” said head coach Dan McMorran, whose squad lost in five to Saskatchewan a year ago, despite leading 2-0. “It’s probably the deepest field it’s been in a number of years.”
“We know every game’s going to be a battle. If you have your ‘A’ game, there’s a good chance you’re going to be competitive. If you’re not there, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose them.”
That summed up Saturday’s loss for UNB, too. They were unable to take advantage of the glimmers of hope Manitoba offered in a match they more or less controlled from start to finish.
“We’re disappointed, for sure,” said McMorran. “We knew we were coming out and playing a very strong Manitoba team.
“There were times we had a couple point lead and made a couple unforced errors there. Our leads dissipated pretty quickly,” he added. “There were times we were down a couple points and battled back, but once again weren’t able to be consistent enough at those stages.”
UNB had some success early in the first set, but the Bisons eventually had too much, zooming out of a close match at the technical timeout, winning it when Dustin Spiring slammed down an over-bump in the middle.
Dear held court for six-straight serves late in the second set as he mixed in a couple of aces with some great work in the middle by Rooney, the Bisons Player of the Match. The 6-foot-4 fifth-year had two big blocks before ending the set with a kill from backup setter Caleb Konrad, sent into the match just for that play.
“I think our passing was pretty strong. It allowed us to run the offence,” said Rooney, mostly receiving passes from starting setter Luke Herr, who had a game-high 34 assists.
“We were putting them in some trouble on the serve, as well, allowing us to block some balls. I think that’s probably the match right there in a nutshell. We serve and received a bit better than they did. Most of the time you’ll win games when you do that.”
UNB had no answer for Dear on the right side in the third set as it seemed anytime Manitoba needed a point they went to their U SPORTS first team all-star. The Varsity Reds hung around, though, catching up off some success from the right side themselves with hard-hitting Andersen. Manitoba put it away when Andersen’s last-gasp kill attempt went long.