By Carly McKay
It isn’t quite what they had envisioned, but a third place finish in last weekend’s Husky Dino Cup Oct. 29-30 is still quite an accomplishment for the Dinos men’s volleyball team. With a 4-0 record at the University of Saskatchewan preseason tournament under their belts, most of the players had high hopes heading into action Thursday night. With a draw including last year’s CIS champion U of S Huskies and NCAA powerhouse University of California, Los Angeles Bruins, the Dinos were in tough against some very stiff competition.
In the opening match of the tournament, the Dinos faced UCLA in a closely contested battle. The crowd was into it early, fueled by a rez challenge, television cameras and Captain Rob Ellis scoring his first kill off UCLA’s second serve. The Dinos appeared to be clicking as setter Glen Handley fed 6ïž´5ï›¸ hitter Eric von Engelbrechten for a total of 17 kills during the match. Unfortunately, they came up on the short end of a 25-20 score in the first set.
The next two went to the Dinos, with strong serving by Rob Ellis and Blake Adair pushing for a 25-23 win in the second set UCLA looked shaky in the early stages of the third game, but rebounded to push the home team to extra points before falling 29-27.
With momentum going into a possible match winner, the wheels came off in the fourth set for the Dinos, as several service errors and well-placed Bruins kills combined to hand Calgary a harsh 25-13 defeat. The deciding fifth game saw UCLA hit top NCAA form, taking the lead on the first serve and coasting to a convincing 15-8 victory.
Looking to recover from a disappointing match, the Dinos faced the York University Lions on Friday in front of 420 screaming fans. Despite trailing midway through the first set, the Dinos rallied around superb attacking from von Engelbrechten and Ellis to take the win at 25-20.
After handing the Lions a 25-13 thrashing in the second, the Dinos responded with some costly service errors in the third. They fell behind 20-18 before managing to battle back for the win at 27-25. Sean Kendall lit up the scoreboard with five service aces and two monster blocks to help even his team’s record at 1-1.
Later Friday evening, a tilt between the Dinos and University of Saskatchewan Huskies proved to be the deciding factor in Calgary’s hopes for reaching the tournament finals. The Huskies easily won the opening set 25-18 thanks to an impressive kill percentage of 48 per cent. The Dinos fought back hard in the middle frame after allowing themselves to get down 16-12, but the Huskies recovered their form to come back 25-22.
With the match on the line, Calgary charged out with huge kills from von Engelbrechten securing the lead at both technical breaks, along with timely service aces from Ellis. With the score tied 23-23, the teams exchanged points until Saskatchewan’s Mark Dodds wiped a kill of the Calgary block to take the set and match 27-25.
With a disappointing 2-1 record, the Dinos came out for the bronze medal match Saturday night looking to redeem themselves–and a 3-0 stomping of the Lions did just that. In a repeat of Friday morning’s victory, fifteen kills from von Engelbrechten propelled the Dinos to straight set wins 25-20, 25-23, and 25-20. They were a much better team defensively than in the previous matches, with eight digs from Ellis, five from Cam Foster, and seven key blocks from Kendall. The team managed to play back from 11 service errors and capitalize on a 42 per cent kill average to capture the bronze in front of a thrilled home crowd of 835.
The Dino Cup final featured a showdown between the UCLA Bruins and Saskatchewan Huskies, with the NCAA team cruising to their fourth title with 25-20, 25-21, and 25-17 wins. The American team proved to be too much for the CIS champs, with twelve team blocks compared to the Huskies’ four and a 35 per cent kill average over Saskatchewan’s measly eight per cent. It was UCLA’s second Dino Cup crowning in the past four years.
Although the Dinos had set their sights higher than third, bronze is still a strong indication of good things to come for this team.
“On this team, there are a lot of glasses half full,” Head Coach Greg Ryan said.
“I’ve never been in the [Dino Cup] finals before,” commented Kendall. “But really it sets the tone for the year. We’re aiming for playoffs.”
With impressive serving and blocking stats, Kendall was selected to the tournament all-star team as the only Calgary representative. With excellent showings from teammates von Engelbrechten and Ellis to build upon, Kendall leads the Dinos into the regular season on a high note Nov. 5-6 at Trinity Western University.