After months of practice, preparations and games, the 2001/02 season ended with two hours of magic. There is simply no other way to describe the Canadian Interuniversity Sport men's volleyball final between the University of Winnipeg Wesmen and the University of Alberta Golden Bears.
"This is so unbelievable, " said tournament Most Valuable Player Ryan Taylor who helped lift the underdog Bears to a 3--2 victory in front of 2,300 screaming fans. "Absolutely unbelievable."
"It was an incredible buzz throughout the whole match," added Alberta power-hitter Sandy Henderson who led his team with 15 kills in the final.
The U of A won the CIS crown on their own court with three amazing victories including monumental upsets against the defending champs, the University of Manitoba and the second-seeded Wesmen. Unbelievable is right considering the Bears started their run to the finals with only the fifth seed and home court advantage. Despite the best efforts of Winnipeg's All-Canadian Jason Dufault who had 21 kills, the Bears defence proved too much in their loud gym. Alberta played an almost flawless fifth set to clinch the match 15--9.
The night before the Bears' heroics, the University of Calgary Dinos finished fifth in the tourney with a win against Queens University in their final match.
"We weren't even supposed to make the playoffs," mused middle Steve Brand.
The Dinos were an inexperienced bunch, with five new starters and an attack centered almost exclusively around CIS Player of the Year Denis Zhukov. Calgary's size and inexperience were noticeable in their 3--0 quarterfinal loss to the Université du Laval Rouge et Or where the 2001 silver medalists dominated the play.
"They beat us in many places," said Zhukov. "On the hits, on the net-they're pretty big hitters."
"Lately, it seems everyone shows up with their best game against us," added middle Wes Montgomery. "But [Alberta's play] shows us it was anyone's tournament. U of A went to the national finals and we split with them both times we played them."
Calgary came back with a gutsy performance against Queen's in a game that was very difficult to play.
"Once you go to the losers bracket, it's hard to get up for the game," said Montgomery. "I thought we played pretty well though."
Zhukov led the way with 22 kills and the Dinos spread the ball around with Montgomery, Kelly Cherniwchan and Scott Thomas also playing well. Cory Paddock had a timely service ace late in the fourth set to swing the momentum back to Calgary. The game ended 3--1 for the Dinos, and fifth place at nationals has to be considered a success for the boys in scarlet and gold.
The Sixth Set:
Middle Wes Montgomery came out of retirement and joined the team in the winter semester. He was named player of the match in Calgary's fifth place win, but will be remembered for providing Gauntlet readers with some memorable quotes. Here is one of the last exchanges with Wes.
Montgomery: "I only played six or seven weeks and I'm pretty
Montgomery: "Two stress fractures."
Me: "Is that cause you put on 20 pounds on top of last season's playing weight?"
Montgomery, pointing at his belly: "That's playing weight right here, buddy."