The daring Dinos had their dreams destroyed as the glorious gold was grabbed out of their grasp, like a colossal carcass crashing to the court.
The Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s volleyball championships took place Mar. 1-3 at the Jack Simpson Gym, and the University of Calgary volleysaurs’ chance at gold evaporated in the hands of the tournament’s eventual champions, the University of Alberta Pandas. The team rebounded to take a bronze medal Sat., Mar. 3.
The road to the finals started fine for the Dinos. Despite a strong challenge from the fourth-seeded Université de Montréal Carabins, the Dinos cruised to a four-set victory Thur., Mar. 1 on the strength of a 13-kill game by former CIS most valuable player, fifth-year Joanna Niemczewska.
“We brag about it all year, and I totally believe that we have the deepest team in the league,” said Niemczewska, who was named the Dinos’ player of the match against the Carabins. “Anyone we bring in could be that game’s leading scorer. We’ve proved it over and over again this year. Someone who is a sub could end up taking over the game.”
Lauren Perry came up with double-digits in kills for the Dinos with 10, and three Dinos registered 10 digs: Julie Young, Brittany Hutton and Niemczewska. Former European professional volleyball player Laetitia Tchoualack racked up 17 kills for the Carabins and was an unstoppable force.
“She was getting a lot of volume, but I think for [the Carabins] it was a good strategy because it was obviously scoring,” said Niemczewska. “She didn’t change that much from the tape we watched, we just didn’t execute our game plan [against her.]”
“We do feel like we have lots of options, and I think Montréal feels the same way,” said Dinos head coach Kevin Boyles. “But as the match progressed, [the Carabins] didn’t pass the ball very well. That puts the setters in a lot of trouble, and they weren’t able to do what they wanted to do.”
Thursday’s disposal of Montréal matched the Dinos up with the Pandas for a Friday night tilt. This would be the third time the Dinos matched up against the Pandas in play that matters. The Dinos walked away with two five-set victories over the U of A in a December series in Edmonton.
“I don’t think technically us or U of A is going to change over night,” said Niemczewska. “We’ve seen them numerous times—a lot of times over the last few years. We know their tendencies. The most important thing is rest and coming out with energy because it will just be who executes tomorrow and who wants it more.”
Something went wrong with the Dinos overnight, and it seemed like they weren’t ready to play in the first two sets against the Pandas. After dropping the first set 25-20 and the second 25-22, the Dinos were facing elimination and a sweep on home court in the semi-finals.
But the Dinos came through in the third and fourth set in some of the best volleyball ever witnessed at the Jack Simpson Gym. Neither team was ahead in the third set by more than two points, and the Dinos escaped with a 25-23 victory.
Unfortunately, following a 25-21 fourth-set Dino victory, the volleysaurs had no answer for CIS player of the year Tiffany Dodds. Dodds racked up an incredible 32 kills on the evening, including six in the final set.
“[Dodds] had a fabulous match, including the fifth set,” said Boyles. “When it was on the line we tipped, and we needed to swing.”
“The fifth set is always just a gamble,” said Niemczewska. “It’s so short. It’s one swing of momentum. To give up a three point run, that’s huge in a 10-minute game.”
The Pandas took the narrowly-fought match three sets to two.
“It was just letting Dodds dominate like that,” said Niemczewska. “It was hard, I thought we were making good plays. We just couldn’t do anything against her.”
Julie Young stepped up big, finishing the match with 15 kills and 23 digs for the volleysaurs. Young was named Dino player of the game.
“It was really close, but I think we could’ve been a lot gutsier,” said Young. “We came back from being two down, that shows guts, but it’s whoever wins the fifth set, right?”
Though the Dinos lost their chance at a golden moment, there was still metal on the line in a bronze medal match against the Trinity Western University Spartans on Saturday. The Spartans have only been in CIS competition since 2000, but have strung together back-to-back nationals appearances. Last year the Dinos eliminated them in the quarter-finals in three straight sets on the very same Jack Simpson floor.
“We’re in a medal match tomorrow, and we’re going to take home the bronze,” said Young Friday.
Young’s prediction rang true as the Dinos again took out the Spartans in three-straight, denying the Spartans their first nationals medal. Fifth-years Niemczewska and Janelle Findlay walked off winners in their final matches. Both Findlay and Niemczewska were members of the national title-winning 2003/04 squad.
“It’s still a ‘W’ at the end of the day,” said Findlay. “There are many teams who would want to be in the exact same spot we are. I think it’s important to show our fans this is who we are and put a win in our last game of CIS.”
Dinos head coach Kevin Boyles was proud of his team’s
effort, in spite of the disappointing loss they endured the previous night.
“Bronze medal matches are such a challenge,” said Boyles. “We always talk about them as being a commitment to each other, to make sure the seniors walk off the court winners and to make sure you end the season the right way.”
“It almost feels like you’ve climbed up a mountain and you’re coming down,” said Findlay. “It shows that much more heart to come out and to get it done.”
With only two departing seniors and a host of healthy and experienced players on the bench, the
Dinos will contend for a Canada West title and a spot on the national stage next year. Solid recruiting has kept a six-year national streak alive and next year should be no different.