By Chris Johns
Fans of the University of Calgary men’s volleyball team are a pretty die-hard group. After all, they stayed until just after midnight on Saturday, hoping to see the Dinosaurs win. On Friday, the team gave fans plenty to cheer about. But was anything settled in the battle for number one?
On a weekend when the top two teams in the country faced each other for the first time, you knew there would be fireworks. The University of Saskatchewan Huskies, ranked number one in the country, are a solid team who play with little flash but plenty of skill. But as the Dinos have already done several times this year, they made a good team look ordinary, dispatching the Huskies on Friday night three games to none, in a little over 75 minutes.
"I don’t think they played very well," said Dinos Head Coach Greg Ryan. "We had a good game plan and we stuck to it right until the end."
The Dinos were very successful in attacking Saskatchewan’s big middle blockers, using the tandem of setter Jeremy Wilcox and middle hitter Adrian Wouts. They spread the offence out and Wilcox was able to use his fantastic back set to keep the Huskies off-balance.
"Probably his best set," said Ryan.
Wilcox is blessed with big hands and with big hands come great sets, but Wilcox needed good passing to give his hitters a chance to score. And that is where the Dinos had a tougher time Saturday.
After his team was wiped off the court Friday night, Husky Coach Brian Gavlas said bluntly, to win on Saturday, "we have to score more than 10 points." He also challenged his team to show why they were the top team in the country and put the Dinos in tough spots.
Right from the outset of Saturday’s match, the Huskies began serving the Dinos short, making Dinos Mark Ellingson and Warren Henshall move up. The passing suffered and Wilcox couldn’t get the ball to his hitters as well. The Huskies are an experienced team and they drew on that experience.
Fifth-year Husky right side hitter Brock Pavier rallied his team with a 22 kill, 18 dig performance that likely kept the Huskies the number one team in Canada. The Huskies led 15-10, 15-8, 14-16, 5-15, 15-10 in the longest match in recent Canada West action, a three hour and seven minute marathon.
"Pride was definitely a factor," said Pavier. "We really just had to come prepared and stick to our plan."
The match was a war, with the Dinos coming to life when the score was 10-0 in favour of the Huskies in the third game. The Huskies showed that they are a legitimate Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union championship contender by shutting the door on the Dinos in the fifth game and the Dinos showed that they can dominate teams when they are firing on all cylinders. Pavier thought that he had seen the future.
"Whether it is here or at our gym, these two teams will probably meet in the conference championships. That’s my early prediction."
The Dinos are sometimes guilty of making a few mistakes and then getting down on themselves. They emerged from their lethargy in the third game but couldn’t sustain it long enough to win the match.
The Dinos were stunned by their defeat and after the marathon match, Wilcox talked about their slow start.
"When things aren’t going well, we go into our little shells. As soon as we get some momentum, we build on that. When that happens, no one beats us," said Wilcox.
The Dinos have a weekend date with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds before ending the first half of the regular season. If they can get out of their shells, the Dinos will make a run at the conference championships for the first time since 1993 when they won their last CIAU title.