"We play better under pressure," said a grinning Denis Zhukov. "No pressure all season and this is the first weekend in a while we took both games."
The entire Jack Simpson Gymnasium grinned along with the Dinos' power hitter as he led his team to two quick victories against the Trinity Western University Spartans.
"Look, the Russian is smiling," someone said in the crowd. "The Russian never smiles."
The cause of Zhukov's jolly demeanour was the first round playoff victory (3--0, 3--1) and a spot at the national championships at the end of the month. Zhukov had 39 kills over the two games at an efficiency of over 50 per cent. All that's left now is the conference finals and a chance for a better seeding in the big show.
"First, we have to go to Manitoba," said middle Wes Montgomery. "I don't like them and we don't want to lose two matches going into nationals. The Bisons are the favourite so if we beat them we show everyone where we belong."
Montgomery had an excellent weekend with 19 kills and some crucial blocks in the third set of game one. He also served the ball over the net, something he was very proud of.
The Dinos look great heading into the conference semifinals on Feb. 14--16 against Manitoba. Power hitter Andy Holland has been outstanding as of late and complements the resurgent Montgomery and the always-dangerous Zhukov. Scott Thomas has been excellent as well and power hitter Kelly Cherniwchan looks comfortable again after a late season injury slowed him down during the stretch.
Calgary is finally starting to gel which translated to two tough wins. In Friday's match, the Dinos lost the first set 31--29 after Trinity's Chris Meehan clipped his serve on the net, only to have it drop right at the feet of a surprised Calgary player. Earlier in the season, this might have spelled disaster but the Dinos regrouped and smashed the visitors in the next three sets-showing just the kind of maturity they'll need for the final dance.