The stands were half full. Most of the fans at the quarter-final game were clapping and it was easy to spot families and friends of the players. Some hugged each other with bright smiles on their faces, while others sat there in disbelief turning their heads to the scoreboard to see if the numbers were really there. On the court, it was the same. As always, one team was in the midst of a wild celebration; the players jumping around, their eyes sparkling from the thrill of the moment. On the other side of the net, the scene was much different.
The score was 3-2 (25-27, 25-23, 25-22, 14-25, 15-9). The University of Toronto Varsity Blues were the seventh seed, and they had just pulled a textbook upset on second-seeded Calgary. And while the girls from Toronto celebrated the possible start of a Cinderella run at the National Championships, the Dinos were the first underachievers of the tournament. Some of the players looked up to the rafters; others simply started to walk in the direction of their locker room in the hope of getting away from the Toronto cheers and the well-meant, but somewhat empty "good trys" from their supporters. Tears ran down their faces as the next game's contestants started their warmups; still full of uncertainty and hope.
"It was a very big disappointment," said Dino captain Amanda Moppett. "We learned a hard lesson. I had quite the puffy eyes this weekend."
"We're gonna spend some time thinking about individual mistakes and do our best to address them in the off-season," added Head Coach Kevin Boyles. "We realized how difficult it is to play at Nationals."
The Dinos won Thursday's matchup against Toronto on the stat sheet, with Moppett and Krista Kinsman each getting 21 kills. However, Calgary played sloppy defence and got frustrated with Toronto's unconventional style.
"We do well against traditional power teams," Boyles remarked. "Playing Toronto exposed some of the weaknesses we have. Our ability to adapt is not that good."
With the loss, the Dinos were bumped to the consolation side of the tourney and had to play the University of Saskatchewan Huskies early the next day. Calgary didn't really get their wheels in motion until the second set of that match, but down 24-17, Dinos' middle Jill Friend served the team back to 24-24. Kinsman had several crucial kills during the comeback and the Dinos won the match 3-1.
Calgary won over the entire gym with their enthusiastic style and Friend quickly became a fan favourite. New Dinos fans, both male and female, cheered on the women to their win against Saskatchewan and promised to come back the next day for Calgary's final game against the University of British Columbia. After getting Friend's autograph following the game, they packed away their newly-made "We love #4" signs and made their way home.
The victory and the new fans seemed to momentarily lift the spirits of the still-depressed lady Dinos.
"We played with a lot of heart," said Kinsman after the game. "And the little kids, they fell in love with Jill. It was great."
The Dinos' last game of the tournament was indicative of the whole weekend. Against UBC, a team the Dinos beat five times this season, they lost 3-0. Calgary seemed flat and unenthusiastic while the Thun-derbirds were quick out of the gate.
"Mentally, we weren't there," conceded Moppett after the match. "We didn't have our usual enthusiasm."
"They lost to us too many times this year," admitted coach Boyles. "They had something to prove."
With the Dinos in the stands, the University of Manitoba Bisons played the Université de Sherbrooke Vert et Or in the final match. The team from Sherbrooke played a good match, but the Bisons and their hometown fans proved too much for the team in green, winning 3-1. The gym went absolutely crazy, and the fifth-seeded Bisons concluded a stellar tournament in which they knocked off fourth-seeded UBC, the first seedUniversité de Laval and Sherbrooke to claim the national title.
"It feels awesome," said Bison player Jackie Schmidt. "It's the best feeling in the world. Some people on our team have worked four or five years for this."
And the Dinos? All they could do was watch.