It all boils down to this. After months of intense practicing, hard fought matches and enduring bus rides, the Dinos have the opportunity this weekend to define their season. The Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships go at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops this weekend from March 12-14. It is a weekend that has been circled in the Dinos' calendar all season long.
After dropping a five-set thriller in the CanadaWest semifinals to the Trinity Western University Spartans, the Dinos bounced back against the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack to win the CanWest bronze medal this past weekend at the University of Alberta.
In Saturday's match the Dinos came out strong, but inconsistent play down the stretch cost the team a shot at the gold medal. After taking the first set, the Dinos dropped the next two before coming on strong in the fourth to force a decisive fifth. Dinos head coach Rod Durrant was happy with his team's effort, but knows they could have played better.
"We started really well, and we were prepared," he said. "They got some good breaks and frustrated us on the defensive end. We didn't execute at the end of the day in the fifth set. We know that we could have played better, but we still went five sets with them."
The Dinos came up with a much more complete effort on Sunday, sweeping TRU in straight sets. With the win the Dinos grabbed the sixth seed for the CIS tournament and avoided a first round matchup with their archrival U of A Golden Bears who are the second seed. Their first round opponent will be the number three ranked Dalhousie Tigers.
"We finished on a good note and we've carried that into our practices this week," said Durrant. "The guys are really excited. They have worked hard to get this point, and they have earned the right to represent the best conference in the country at the national championship."
Though the conference bronze medal may have been somewhat of a disappointment, the Dinos have much bigger things on their mind. Their focus now shifts to the Tigers, an opponent they have already faced once this year at the McDonald's Invitational. The Dinos lost a close match in which each of the four sets were decided by two points.
Though the Dinos are one of the lower seeds in the tournament, Durrant believes the rankings are irrelevant.
"This year's national championship has the closest parity I can remember. There are probably a good seven teams that have a shot at winning this event if they come and play their best volleyball. That's what makes it exciting."
The Dinos are well-conditioned for this tournament from playing in the toughest conference in the country. When the final CIS rankings were announced Feb. 23, seven of the top 10 teams came from the CanWest conference. CanWest has also dominated at nationals, winning 15 straight CIS titles.
Not a single player on the Dinos' current roster has competed in a national championshipw before, but they remain a confident bunch.
"We're definitely excited," said fifth-year middle Pat Lenaour. "It's been our goal all year, anything less than that would be a disappointment. We're a little nervous, but mostly just excited to get going."