With three weekends of play left before the post-season, the University of Calgary men's volleyball team entered the Jack Simpson gym last Friday and Saturday with the mandate of maintaining second-place in the Canada West conference.
Despite the intimidating task of taking on the then third-place University of Winnipeg Wesmen, the Dinos overcame bouts of distracted play and miscommunication to achieve a weekend sweep, winning 3-1 on both Friday (22-25, 35-33, 25-21, 25-16) and Saturday (25-22, 14-25, 28-26, 25-14).
Spectators were on the edge of their seats and were treated to nail-biting action both nights.
Friday's match featured an extensive second set that ended in Dino victory (35-33) as a momentum-shifting kill by left side Andrew Tallas and a paramount service ace by middle Oleg Podporin sealed the deal.
Saturday was also intense, as the Dinos fought to redeem themselves in the third set after suffering disappointment in the second.
Numerous substitutions allowed starting line players to mentally recharge while giving well-deserved court time to some pumped-up Dinos who feature in matches less frequently and were looking to prove their skills.
Graham Vigrass pinpointed the substitution of Pierre Rocque into the mix as a main factor in the momentum shift of Saturday night's match.
"When he came in, he brought energy," Vigrass said, adding that the team's unforced errors during the second-set slump were widely due to a lack of focus and vigour.
Podporin also seemed revitalized during Saturday's third set after a brief discussion with the official over a questionable call.
He attacked with renewed enthusiasm, delivering some frightening service aces and kills to the off-guard Wesmen team.
Dinos head coach Rod Durrant noted that the lost sets and struggles the Dinos faced could largely be chalked up to a faltering mental game as the team became "distracted" and "made some bad decisions at the net hitting."
Part of the team's momentary breakdown on Saturday was due to being temporarily overwhelmed by the task at hand.
"The guys [were] trying to do too much," he said. "[Winnipeg's] block was bigger and better. The defence was better. We knew that and they knew that. We were trying to be perfect and hit a really good shot and a lot of times, that misses."
However-- not to suggest the team's play was rough all weekend-- Durrant was quick to point out that, for the most part, the Dinos' game was strong.
"There were a lot of spectacular plays too, with the defence and serving and some big blocks," he said. "It was some fun volleyball to watch for the most part. It was pretty entertaining."
Trying not to think about the post-season before the regular season ends (and the tantalizing thought of home court advantage during the playoffs), both Durrant and Vigrass insisted that the team's focus in practice will be on their upcoming matches this weekend in Brandon and not the post-season.
Blocking and defence will be spotlighted during practice this week, as Durrant sees this as important in the drive, "to solidify what we want to do as a team."
Though the Brandon University Bobcats swept last year's weekend series against the Dinos, the reds have already defeated the Bobcats once this academic year during the Dinos' pre-season invitational.
This, coupled with the Dinos' current momentum, will be an asset as January play heats up.