With the release of the new CIS Top Ten rankings, we break down the movers and the shakers among the nation's premier ball-volleying men.
With the volleyball season quickly approaching its end, it seems that the nation's top teams are rounding into their best, and most expected form. But like any sweeping generalization, that trend has a few notable exceptions, which account for the small amount of movement in this week's CIS Top Ten.
ON THE OUTS:
McMaster Marauders (LW: #10): The Marauders pay the price this week for their loss in Guelph on Saturday, which saw them fall in four sets to a truly inspired Gryphons side that appears to love the home cooking. Most problematic for the maroon and grey was their passing, which continues to the the crux of their game. When they dig with organization and purpose, and when the rookie setting duo of Austin Campion-Smith and Chris Spack are crafting quality balls, the Marauders soar. When these two facets of their play disappear, McMaster begins to look exceptionally vulnerable. To ask for unswerving consistency out of two fresh rookies is hardly fair. But then that is the requirement of being a starting setter on an elite level squad. Gulp.
WELCOME TO THE BIG SHOW:
#10 Guelph Gryphons (LW: NR): While the Gryphs have been knocking on the door of Canada's upper echelon for quite some time now, their convincing home victory over the Marauders was the sort of statement necessary to break it down. Veteran outside Winston Rosser was impressive on the weekend, providing consistent and accurate power from the wing position. Add to that the serving prowess of setter Kevin Carey, who powered down five aces over the course of the four set match. It amounted to a stellar team performance, and one which, to be entirely honest, surprised yours truly to no end. However, only time will tell if the Gryphons can manage that sort of form on the road - as they will invariably be traveling for the OUA Final Four.
GAME YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE MISSED:
#7 Brandon (3) vs. #4 Trinity Western (1): After losing the opening match of their weekend set at home against the Spartans on Friday night, one might forgive the Bobcats for coming out a little flat the next night. But in a sure sign of resiliency, the Manitoban side did nothing of the sort on Saturday, fighting tooth and nail to eke out the first game of the night in extra points. From there, Brandon was clearly the better team, despite a third-set slip up to the contrary. The result serves as an obvious confidence boost to the Bobcats, who claim an important scalp in the late stages of the season. More impressively, Brandon demonstrated an attacking variety that I would not have given them credit for previously. Right-side Kevin Miller stepped out of the shadow of his illustrious partner to lead the Manitobans with 19 points on Saturday.
ONE TO WATCH:
#3 Calgary vs. #2 Alberta: If you miss either of the two volleyball spectacles that these squads promise to put on this weekend, then you're not a fan of the sport. (In fact, if you fall into that category, please stop reading this post immediately and never return to my column.) How can you go wrong when you have two of the top three teams in the country playing a double header on the final weekend of the regular season? All with the top seed in Canada West very much on the line.
There's also a bit of personal pride on the line here, as I rank the Dinos ahead of the Golden Bears in my own estimation. So it will be a case of unqualified blogger vs. the CIS this weekend. Bring it on 'voters'. One note of caution: If Calgary wins the opener on Friday, they will have officially clinched the conference. So don't expect them to push too hard for a sweep.
THE ABSOLUTELY UNOFFICIAL CALDWELLIAN RANKINGS (CR)
1.) Calgary - Despite a decidedly bottom-loaded schedule, the Dinos have yet to slip up (there's the jinx) in the face of some stiff late-season competition. Should they even split against the Golden Bears this weekend, they will confirm their position as top dogs in Canada West and the most dangerous team in Canada heading into the games that really matter.
2.) Alberta - The Golden Bears continue to lay the smackdown on the lesser teams of the Western region. The real measure of their strength comes this weekend, when they complete their season with the toughest of tasks.
3.) Laval - The Rouge et Or polished off another spotless conference season this past weekend, and that is undoubtedly an accomplishment. But the fact that Laval has done so for three years running in the friendly environs of the RSEQ field is telling. The Rouge et Or are a whale in a goldfish bowl. We'll see how they stack up in BC.
4.) Trinity Western - I can't quite figure out the Spartans this season. In the aftermath of the winter break, TWU appeared ready to take a serious run at the leadership of Canada West. Instead, their recent play against legitimate competitors such as Calgary and Brandon seems to suggest that the Spartans cannot yet be regarded as a top team. Rudy Verhoeff aside, the blue-clad British Columbians have personified inconsistency.
5.) Manitoba - Oh the Bisons. The Manitobans have been steady in dealing defeats to the lower echelons of Canada West, but have recently run in to the dual peaks of the conference. The result was 0 of 8 possible points, and a reality check of sorts for the Bisons. This weekend will be pivotal, as Manitoba gets a tour of the CIS venue and a crack at the other squad lingering outside the top section of Canada West.
6.) Brandon - I won't lie. The Bobcats gained some serious respect from yours truly by managing to split their weekend set against the Spartans, even while home court advantage undoubtedly helped. I have often wondered aloud whether Bobcats who are capable of helping a volleyball find the floor exist outside of Paul Sanderson. But Kevin Miller's role in leading the way did much to shut me up. Lesson learned.
7.) Western - The Mustangs validated the OUA standings this past weekend by dishing out some straight-set pain to two visiting squads from Kitchener-Waterloo. Garrett May continues to be the story, as he cements what will almost certainly go down as a Rookie of the Year worthy season in Ontario. It will be a crime if he doesn't turn a few heads at the national level as well.
8.) Thompson Rivers - After a brief hiatus, we saw the return of the Kevin Tillie show this past weekend, as the sophomore import from the land of wine and baguette absolutely torched the Wesmen over the course of six dominating sets. I remain unconvinced by the team as a whole, who will not emerge from Canada West this season. But Tillie is a beast.
9.) Queen's - The Gaels keep chugging along as the season concludes, breezing past lower-tier opposition from Toronto. That does little to impress. What will impress is if the Kingston squad can beat the Marauders this weekend on home turf. Just the sort of statement game that the Gaels have repeatedly faltered in this season.
10.) McMaster - Inconsistency remains the problem for the Marauders, who can't escape the youth in their lineup. The future seems bright for the many influential rookies of the maroon and grey, but their inexperience has cost them on a few pivotal occasions. I have my doubts, but they can settle them considerably if they can show composure and a killer instinct on the road in Kingston.