By Chris Johns
The west coast is a nice place to visit in the middle of winter, unless you are a Canada West team striving for the playoffs.
The University of Calgary men’s volleyball team found out the hard way, as they lost two important matches to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds over the weekend in Vancouver. The T-birds have picked up their play of late as they have beaten number-one University of Winnipeg and now number-two Calgary in the past three weeks. The losses didn’t impress Dino coach Greg Ryan.
"It was nothing that they did, really,"said Ryan. "We lost 25-23 in the first game on Friday and we had four ball handling calls against us and UBC had none. That was a big factor. When those calls come at critical times, you don’t have a lot of margin of error. It forces you to run a different offence to get the ball in bounds."
UBC beating Calgary reinforces the notion that it is difficult to win on the road in the Canada West Conference. The top teams win all or most of their home games and then win one out of two on the road. As a conference, the teams of Canada West travel more than any other conference and when you get to this point in the season, the players are pulling half a dozen baggage tags off their luggage.
UBC is no slouch. When they visited the Jack Simpson Gymnasium in the fall, UBC had some injury trouble. Their top power hitter, Guy Davis, was bothered by a hernia injury and played the libero position. This past weekend, he was at full strength and gave the Dinos’ defence fits.
"He played very well," said Ryan of Davis. "He hit the ball well at key times."
All is not lost for the Dinos. While UBC improved to 12-8 in matches won and lost, they are still likely to miss the playoffs. Saskatchewan and Alberta also share the 12-8 record, but Calgary is 11-9 and they have won 10 more games than UBC So if Calgary and UBC end up tied, Calgary will make the playoffs. Calgary visits to Great Plains Athletic Conference cellar-dweller Regina while UBC must defeat Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. On paper, the Dinos appear to have the advantage.
"We have to win both matches by 3-2 scores," said Ryan. "UBC has to win both in Saskatchewan. If we win, we are still in the play-offs."
So the conference is tighter than a velour sweater fresh out of the drier, but the effects of rally-point scoring are being felt.
"As I have said for most of the year, rally-point makes bad teams better," said Ryan, "and playing all five games in a match took some getting used to. But in the play-offs, we are going back to the old format."
Matches will be played in the best-of-five format still using the rally point system. Will the best three teams make the play-offs? Saskatchewan and Alberta are in. Calgary just has to prove they are among the best by winning on the road. Regina? Please.