The top-seeded Trinity Western Spartans are headed back the U SPORTS  Championship final after knocking off the No. 5 McMaster Marauders 3-1 (23-25, 25-14, 25-17, 25-21) in the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinal, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.

With the win, the Spartans will have the chance to defend their 2016 national title on Sunday, as they battle the host Alberta Golden Bears. The two Canada West powerhouses have combined for each of the past three championships, with Alberta winning in 2014 and 2015. Sunday’s final will also be a rematch of the 2015 U SPORTS Championship final, which the Golden Bears won in three sets.

Saturday’s semifinal win for  Trinity Western was also the second straight four-set win over McMaster in the national championship, following the 3-1 win over the Marauders in the 2016 final.

Also identical was Trinity dropping the first set, before running off three straight set wins.

“I thought that was a really interesting game, between a couple staffs that were really trying to figure each other out. It was kind of a heavyweight bout, and neither team wanted to throw the first big punch, and risk making a mistake,” said Spartans bench boss Ben Josephson. “It kind of had a feeling out process in the first. You could see both teams had a lot prepared for this match. I think slowly the intensity and pace started to pick up in the second. It was a pretty athletic match, I thought their defence in the middle part of the match was as good as I’ve seen anyone defend us.”

Fifth-year outside hitter, and 2017 U SPORTS Player of the Year Ryan Sclater once again paced the juggernaut Spartans, finishing with a game-high 19 kills, adding five digs and three block assists. His efforts earned him the  Trinity Wester Player of the Match.

“Unfortunately tomorrow is his last game. I’m going to miss seeing him perform like that,” said Josephson of Sclater. “Not only was he making plays, but also the way the senior leader was making those plays and rallying the troops. We are going to miss that so much.”

Brandon Koppers and Jayson McCarthy led McMaster with 14 kills each, while U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian Danny Demyanenko had seven kills and three total blocks. The loss is just the first of the season for McMaster, who went through the OUA conference undefeated.

“I thought we battled really hard, I never questioned our effort,” said a visibly upset Dave Preston, head coach of McMaster following the match. “Fundamentally we weren’t sound enough, we missed 22 per cent of our serves, we made 17 service errors. And they put us under a tremendous amount of pressure from the service line. Fundamentally we weren’t good enough, but our compete level was very high, and I’m proud of that.”

That poor serving was on display in the first, however it came from both teams with 11 combined service errors. McMaster was able to overcome that deficiency, thanks in large part to six kills from each McCarthy and Koppers, taking the set 25-23.

McMaster’s troubles from the line, coupled with a Trinity’s offence rounding into form, saw a clinical Spartans win in the second. Five McMaster attack errors, two more from the service line, as well as five kills from Sclater saw Trinity Western dispatch the Marauders quickly 25-14.

The lethal Spartans attack hit another level in the third, as they scored 13 kills on just 29 attempts, without committing single offensive error. Slater added five more, including a pair of back-row bombs, while Blake Scheerhoorn chipped in three of his own.

The OUA Champion Marauders showed their fight in the fourth, holding a lead of 15-12. However, three kills from Aaron Boettcher and one more from Sclater powered a late 7-1  Spartans run and a 25-21 fourth-set win.

The 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men’s Volleyball Championship match will get underway at 6:00 p.m. at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton, as both the Spartans and Golden Bears aim to cement their dynasty in U SPORTS men’s volleyball.

“We trained for a whole year just to get back to this game. Man, it was fun to win. And I think everyone wants to win it again because it as so much fun to share with our friends and family,” said Josephson ahead of Sunday’s final. “The Bears are going to feel that pressure too. They want to win at home, and share that with their friends and family. It should be a classic”