By Randy Lewis
For the sixth time in the illustrious 14-year history of the Husky Dino Cup, the championship trophy will reside in the hallowed halls of the University of Calgary’s Kinesiology department. The men’s volleyball Dinos made that a certainty on Saturday night by defeating the defending National Collegiate Athletic Association champions, the University of California at Los Angeles Bruins, 3-1 in the tournament final.
Nearly 3,500 raucous fans packed the Jack Simpson Gym to watch the Dinos come together to win their first championship since 1998.
The Dinos and Bruins finished with identical 2-1 records in round-robin play along with the University of Alberta. However, on the basis of games for and against, the Golden Bears were the odd team out. The University of Pacific Tigers rounded out the field with a 0-3 record.
Calgary kicked off the tournament on Thursday evening with a solid performance, defeating the Bruins 3-1 (25-19, 25-16, 25-27, 25-15). There were mixed results on Friday as the Dinos lost a heartbreaker to their provincial rivals 3-2 (23-25, 25-23, 21-25, 26-24,15-13). However, fear of not being in the finals for only the second time in history helped the Dinos put together a solid effort against the U of P Tigers Friday night, winning 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 29-27).
In Saturday’s final, the Dinos managed to shake off some early jitters and nervousness to take advantage of seven service errors by the Bruins to grab a lead in the match taking the first set 29-27. During the second set, the Bruins were able to utilize the back row attack of six-foot-ten senior Adam Naeve and score several points early. Calgary rebounded from the early deficit with two of their 10 total service aces, but several key errors near the end of the marathon second set allowed UCLA to even the match at one all, 33-31.
The beginning of the third set looked ominous for the home team as they fell behind 6-1 against the dominating defence exhibited by UCLA. Head Coach Greg Ryan then substituted third-year player Andy Holland into the lineup and he responded immediately with several kills to bring the Dinos to within 16-14. After some big blocks, the Dinos won a couple of long rallies, drawing the crowd into the match and the U of C was able to feed off the crowd’s energy to win the third set 25-21.
The Dinos came out strong in the fourth set with several key stuff blocks from team captain Wes Montgomery and setter Lee Czernick to give the Dinos a 16-11 cushion. Although the Bruins made a valiant effort, UCLA eventually succumbed to the Dinos, losing the final game 27-25.
The tournament’s most valuable player was U of C second-year power hitter Denis Zhukov. MVP of the final match and one of five tournament all-stars, fifth-year right side Bill Byma praised Zhukov following the game.
"You can set him the ball and you know you will get a kill," said Byma of his teammate.
In the final match, Byma led the Dinos with 18 kills while Zhukov added 10 of his own to go along with four service aces and 10 digs. Pacing the way for the Bruins was tournament all-star Adam Naeve with 10 kills, four aces, seven digs and three stuff blocks. Other tournament all-stars included Alberta middle blocker Mike McPherson, Calgary middle Wes Montgomery and UCLA setter Rich Nelson.
The turning point of the match came when power hitter Andy Holland made his first appearance of the tournament midway through the third game and provided a much-neede spark for the home squad. Ryan commended Holland’s play following the win.
"He was really energetic," Ryan remarked. "He was able to change [UCLA’s] blocking schemes and change the flow of the game."
Saturday’s match marked the seventh time in the history of the tournament that the Dinos and Bruins met to decide the champion, with the University of Calgary coming out victorious in five of those meetings.
"It’s tougher to win here than it is to win the NCAA’s," legendary UCLA Coach Al Scates noted, as his team has won only two Dino Cups in comparison to an astonishing 18 national championships in the U.S. in only 22 attempts.
UCLA uses this tournament as one of four during their off-season to evaluate new players for the start of their season in January. Although UCLA was missing their best outside hitter due to a pulled stomach, Ryan was quick to point out that this Bruins team was extremely strong.
"They could throw on their bench players and not miss a beat," said Ryan.
Fifth-ranked U of A rounded out the tournament, defeating U of P 3-0 (25-13, 25-20, 25-21) to claim the bronze medal in their first appearance in the Dino Cup since 1994.