Unbeaten no longer, the Dinos women's volleyball team dropped two straight five-set games against the University of Manitoba Bisons. The Bisons came into the match ranked first in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
The Dinos were 6-0 coming into the Fri. Nov. 24 appointment with the Bisons. The match was close. Both teams won two sets, forcing a fifth and final showdown. Typically fifth sets are decided when a team picks up their 15th point, but this fifth set was atypical. With the score 14-10, the Dinos picked up four straight points to tie the score. The teams went back and forth, exchanging point for point until two Dino attack errors settled the fifth set at 26-24 in favour of the Bisons.
Two-time CIS player of the year Joanna Niemczewska led the match with 27 kills and 18 digs.
Saturday's match did not begin in the Dinos' favour as they dropped two close sets and were down 2-0 early.
"Those first two sets we really felt like we were playing terribly," said Dinos head coach Kevin Boyles. "We were right in [the games] without having any rhythm, without having our game flowing. It's just frustrating that we came out that flat."
Niemczewska had only four kills half-way through the second set, when Boyles subbed in Holly Harper, moving Niemczewska to the left. The change seemed to spark the Dinos, despite them going on to lose the second set 25-23.
"[Boyles] put [Harper] in, so that changed the focus," said Niemczewska. "Everyone has, all of sudden, a different job. You're in a different spot on the court, a different position, a different job. That helps a lot to have everyone in focus."
With the change, the Dinos picked up their play, winning the third set 25-20 and the fourth set 25-14. Like Friday's match, this one would be decided in a fifth set.
"We didn't feel like we had it together until the fourth set," said Boyles. "We made some changes, [putting Niemczewska] out on the left side and [subbing] Harper into the game. We started to spread them out on the net a little better. We started hitting the ball from both sides of the net. I think we'll do that in the future since [Harper and Niemczewska] played really well in those positions."
Niemczewska finished with 21 kills. Harper had eight.
The momentum from the two straight set wins didn't carry over to the fifth set however, as the Bisons quickly built a 3-0 lead. Five unforced Bisons errors allowed the Dinos back into the game, but the Dinos could not find the rhythm that made winning the fourth set look so easy. The Bisons sealed their fate and the fifth set, 15-9.
"This isn't an end-of-the-world scenario," said Boyles. "We were playing a match-up this weekend with the top team in the country, and we went five sets both nights. Certainly we know we're there, we're close. We've just got to work harder towards nationals."
"We knew before how they play, but now it's drilled into our heads that we know they're very good, and they stay that way the whole game," said Niemczewska. "You can't rely on them to start playing like crap. Now that it's drilled into our heads, we'll remember it better."
Nothing gets easier for the Dinos from here, as they travel to Edmonton Dec. 1-2 to play the University of Alberta Pandas. The Pandas are 8-0, ranked third in the nation, and have only lost six sets all year. In the Dinos' favour is the two pre-season match-ups they had against the Pandas, both Dinos victories.