While most of us were reveling in New Year's festivities, the Dinos men's volleyball team was battling it out on a road trip of epic proportions. The Brian Mallard Invitational tournament at the University of Saskatchewan got the ball rolling Jan. 1, as the Dinos faced the University of Winnipeg Wesmen in their opening match. With strong play early on, the Dinos took advantage of the lagging Wesmen defense, rolling to victory in four sets, 25-17, 32-30, 19-25 and 25-15.
With one commanding victory under their belt, the team came out hard against the host UÂ ofÂ S Huskies. Having another crack at the defending national champions set the stage for Calgary to avenge their regular season losses, but the Huskies proved once again to be slightly out of reach, edging the Dinos in four, 25-21, 25-18, 21-25 and 33-31.
A final match against the Pepperdine University Waves was the only chance for the Dinos to advance to the championship, although the scores were close throughout, Pepperdine managed to snag the win 28-26, 25-22, 25-22. Calgary ultimately finished fourth in the tournament after losing the consolation final to the Wesmen.
Although the Dinos weren't able to capture the gold, a trip to the Golden State surely helped to ease the disappointment. After a brief stopover in Calgary, the team headed straight out to the west coast of California for four exhibition matches against the NCAA's powerhouse teams. While volleyball was clearly the focus, Head Coach Greg Ryan knew that local attractions would steal some of his team's attention.
"Some of the conversations in the van were pretty funny. Guys were excited about seeing Sunset Blvd. and Rodeo Drive, but I was like, it's just a long road."
The volleyball portion of the tour got underway Jan. 4 as the Dinos faced California State University at Northridge. After spending most of the previous 24 hours traveling, the Dinos came out surprisingly well, splitting the first two sets 28-30 and 30-20. The third and fourth sets finished with identical 30-25 wins for the opposition. Following such a hard fought match, Ryan's squad looked to be off to a solid start.
Day two of the tour showcased a match against the University of California at Santa Barbara Gauchos Jan. 15. Despite a straight-sets loss, 30-21, 31-29 and 32-30, the Dinos gave the home team quite a challenge. In the second set Calgary was up 29-27 only to see their lead slip away, and the third saw the teams tied at 28 before the Gauchos managed to squeak out the victory.
Long Beach State University was next on the agenda, and fatigue was unfortunately beginning to show, as the Dinos again dropped three straight. Brian Nellis' eleven kills were a high point for the team, as the 30-26, 30-18 and 30-21 scores were the largest margins of victory by any opposing team on the trip.
Last up was a rematch against the Waves, who had handed the Dinos an early exit at the U of S days before. Again the team from Malibu proved to be a difficult opponent, as they cruised to the win 30-26, 30-18, and 30-27. In the last set the Dinos gave up three consecutive service aces, which Ryan believes is one area his team needs to work on.
"There were some communication problems on serve receive," he said Tuesday, noting that focus will be a major theme for the remainder of the season. Considering the tiring travel his team underwent, however, Ryan proudly admitted that "given all the traffic and stupidity, they did a pretty good job."
Men's volleyball action returns to the Jack Simpson Gymnasium as the Dinos take on the Trinity Western University Spartans Jan. 21-22.