With their trademark block defence at its dominant best, McMaster shut down UBC to claim the bronze medal at the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men’s Volleyball Championship, Sunday afternoon at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
With a 3-0 win over the Canada West bronze medalists (25-14, 27-25, 25-17), McMaster leaves nationals with a medal for the fifth straight season.
“Not exactly the colours we wanted, but we’re very proud of what we accomplished so far,” said McMaster’s U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian Danny Demyanenko, who finishes his university career with two silvers and three bronze medals from U SPORTS Championships.
“After quite the tough match last night, to be able to end the right way definitely means a lot,” added the 6-foot-5 middle, who is one of four graduating seniors on the Marauders. “The guys who are graduating with me, we’ve been to nationals all five years that we’ve come here. We’ve finished with a medal. Though they may not be the colour we wanted and we didn’t win the national championship, our hard work showed dividends. We’re really happy to come home with another medal for our program.”
Demyanenko factored into Sunday’s win a big way as the captain led McMaster’s incredible block defence to nine total blocks and numerous chips that ruined sure kills for the Thunderbirds.
“Our block defence was incredible because our serving allowed it to be,” said McMaster head coach Dave Preston. “Last night, we didn’t serve well enough for our block defence to be good. That’s been our mainstay all year. We love to defend.
“Tonight our serve allowed us to do that. Last night it didn’t,” he added of a four-set defeat to Trinity Western, the very team that beat them in the national final a year ago.
The Marauders were game right from the first serve, cruising into the technical timeout up 16-7 off Demyanenko’s ace. They just kept extending their lead from there, ending it when Brandon Koppers blasted one of the UBC block and out.
It was not the same Thunderbirds team that took host Alberta to the limit on Saturday night.
“It took us a bit of time last night to regroup and release that loss last night,” UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald acknowledged. “That was a tough one. I thought we had the momentum going into that fifth set and to lose that one was tough. But today, we were really playing for a bronze medal because I thought our guys deserved it with what they did this year.
“I just wanted to see them be rewarded for all the hard work they put in and everything they accomplished. But we were not good enough today.”
In the second set, UBC was undone by serving errors – recording six of their 12 in that span – as McMaster held an early lead. However, the Thunderbirds deserved a better fate in the set. They were up 22-19 and seemed poised to make it a long match. But McMaster came out of a timeout fired up, closed the gap and a close set ended when UBC middle Joel Regehr went long on back-to-back kill attempts.
“There was kind of a combination of issues today,” said MacDonald. “I don’t think we served overly well. And we made too many attacking errors. We actually passed the ball quite well, but we never really got our offence going at all today.
“But a lot of that is a testament to them,” he noted. “I thought they did a great job on their side-out blocking and their defensive assignments were fantastic. That’s a pretty special team – a lot of fifth-years, junior national team and potential national team players over there. You’ve got to be better than that if you’re going to beat them.”
Hitting errors (10 total) destroyed any momentum UBC had going in the third set as they recorded a team percentage of -.062, unable to mount any offence against high-leaping McMaster. The match ended when Thunderbirds’ junior national team setter Byron Keturakis put a kill attempt into the net off a scrambly play.
Captain Irvan Brar, powerful and fantastic at times in the match, led UBC with 13 kills. Keturakis chipped in 31 assists and six digs, but he was off his normally dominant serving game with four errors. Cam Fennema added eight kills and an ace for the Thunderbirds.
McMaster was led by Koppers’ 10 kills, while Andrew Richards, Demyanenko and Jayson McCarthy had eight each. Andrew Kocur added two aces and six digs.
“Gold is the colour of champions, but bronze is the colour of those who persevere,” summed up Preston. “I thought we did a pretty good job of recovering from last night and keeping things in perspective – being able to come out and take the court with integrity today and show respect for the game, respect for our school and represent. I thought we did a really good job of that.”
“You don’t always get to pick the colour you wear, but I think they really did deserve that bronze medal today. I think they earned it.”