Facebook profile for more low-quality pictures from the tournament, to be posted Monday night.]
The Calgary Dinos have come a long way in a week. On March 6, they lost a five-set thriller to the Trinity Western Spartans in the Canada West semifinals. They went on to beat Thompson Rivers in straight sets in the bronze-medal match and entered the nationals this week as the sixth seed.
From there, though, things only got better for them; they knocked off the No.3 Dalhousie Tigers in a close five-set match in the quarterfinals, then beat the No.2 Alberta Golden Bears in a five-set semifinal battle and finally got revenge on the Spartans with a four-set victory in the gold-medal match.
Trinity Western head coach Ben Josephson said the Spartans didn't play as well as they could have, but the Dinos turned in a stellar effort.
"A lot of things weren’t quite working the way we wanted, but any time you play a good team, they take you out of a lot of the things you do well," he said. "They made a couple more plays than we did."
Josephson said the Dinos' blocking and passing game in particular was difficult to beat.
"They’re just a really good, stable blocking team," he said. "I felt like our guys were hitting the ball nice and hard, but their blocks slowed it down. They scrambled to the ball real well. I don’t think we matched their defensive intensity in the first half of that match."
Some underdogs in a final would embrace a us-against-the-world mentality, but Dinos' head coach Rod Durrant said his team was confident despite their low seed.
"We didn’t think the seeds meant anything," he said. "We were happy to be here and we knew we had a shot at winning."
Durrant said the talent is pretty evenly spread at the top of CIS volleyball, which means that whoever gets hot at the right time can claim a title.
"I felt everyone coming into the tournament had a chance to win it," he said. "There was no clear-cut favourite."
Durrant attributed his team's success to their self-confidence.
"They believed and they performed as best as they could when they needed to," he said. "I’m so proud of this group of guys. It’s tough to describe."
Durrant said the Dinos showed their ability to battle through adversity.
"They kept believing and kept playing," he said. "To go back to the quarterfinal, we were down 2-0 and they kept believing. To finalize it the way we did is so rewarding."
I've written a lot this weekend about the advantages of facing tough league competition (and conversely, the disadvantages of an easier league). Durrant buys that theory. He said he figures a tough regular-season schedule set his team up well for the nationals.
"Every weekend’s a battle in Canada West," he said. "I think it prepares us very well for this championship. I do think it has a lot to do with it, and I think it’s because there’s a tremendous commitment by the athletes in this conference, and coaches around this conference just prepare their guys. I think we win as a conference."
Durrant's team will experience a fair bit of attrition this summer, as they have several fourth- and fifth-year veterans leaving. He isn't concerned about that yet, though. Instead, he's happy to celebrate a national championship with his veterans (who dumped a bucket of Gatorade on him after the trophy presentation).
"I’m very excited they went out as national champions," he said. "We’ll worry about next year maybe tomorrow."
[Cross-posted to Sporting Madness]