After a summer-long hiatus CIS volleyball has returned - and this weekly rundown with it. While the national rankings have been posted for the past two weeks, this most recent weekend marked the first action for many of the nation's volleyballers. As such, we begin the tracker today.
The CIS Top-Ten rankings around which this post is centered can be found here.
The Game You Shouldn't Have Missed:
Saskatchewan (2) vs. #1 Trinity Western (3) - Oct. 28: After a well-documented pre-season spent jetting around the nation and representing the continent admirably at the FIVB Club World Championships in Doha last month, the defending national champions settled into their conference schedule on Friday. And they very nearly fell off of their perch in their opening match. The vaunted Spartans were pushed exceedingly hard in their season-opener in Saskatoon, edging the contest by the narrowest of margins at 17-15 in the fifth set.
The Huskies were projected to be an improved team, as the green-clad prairie outfit returns the majority of its roster this season from a disastrous 3-15 campaign last year. But challenging Trinity Western should have been out of the question. Instead, the Huskies enjoyed a balanced attacking game, with three hitters reaching or eclipsing the 14-point plateau, and nearly grabbed a massive upset on home court. The Spartans undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief, and responded with a more convincing four-set win to close out the two-game set on Saturday night.
One to Watch:
#5 Calgary vs. #3 Manitoba - Nov. 4 and 5: This two-game set could put the perennial powerhouse Dinos in an early hole, as they have already dropped a game this year. That loss came in a shocking sweep in Kamloops against Thompson Rivers, with Calgary looking extremely vulnerable in the absence of CIS Player of the Year Vigrass. While the middle remains on the shelf through injury, the Dinos are a team for the taking. And Manitoba is more aptly positioned than ever to exploit that weakness, returning all of their starters from a team that was a set away from the CIS tournament last season.
Having dealt easily with the Brandon Bobcats last weekend, the Bisons look primed to continue their early run against the Dinos. If Vigrass remains on the sidelines, expect Manitoba to sweep the weekend series and drop Calgary's record to 3-1.
The Absolutely Unofficial Caldwellian Rankings (CR)
1.) Trinity Western (3rd in RPI) - How can you bet against the Spartans? Trinity Western wiped the floor with the competition in last year's CIS tournament to emphatically claim the national title. And the truly scary thing is: they may actually be even better this season. Not a single starter has graduated from that team, and in fact, several standouts have returned to the Spartan fold. Outside hitter Steven Marshall is the most important of these, casually strolling back into the squad after a year-long absence and instantly becoming the team's number two threat behind last year's CIS Tournament MVP Rudy Verhoeff. Good luck to the competition.
2.) Manitoba (1st in RPI) - The Bisons are back in a very big way. Manitoba is poised to have a landmark season this year, as the promising lineup that nearly landed them in the national tournament last year comes back entirely intact and a year older. It's a group with chemistry, experience, and exceptional balance across all positions. The Bisons' routine handling of Brandon this past weekend was only a taste. A shot at the Dinos in a few days time could announce their arrival in full.
3.) Alberta (12th in RPI) - This pick is entirely a matter of faith and reputation at this point, as the Bears have yet to play a set of conference ball. In addition, Alberta is looking at a major turnover in personnel this season. Gone are two men who now start for Team Canada, including vicious outside hitter Spencer Leiske and perhaps the best setter in the country last season, Tanner Nault. But the depth of the Bears should mean a relatively smooth transition, as hitters Jay Olmstead and Mitch Irvine take over the veteran reigns. How well that generational move translates to the court, only time will tell.
4.) UBC (19th in RPI) - Does UBC deserve the no. 4 spot? On reputation, no. But the Thunderbirds return the vast majority of a dangerous lineup (minus superhuman libero Blair Bann and outside Ben Chow) and have added one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. That crop includes middle Alex Russell, maybe the most high-profile recruit in the province, and two members of the high-flying Manitoban provincial team. Look for the T-Birds to challenge the top-tier in Canada West.
5.) Laval (11th in RPI) - One half of the Rouge et Or's dynamic outside duo has graduated, but Karl de Grandpre - the better of the two (at least according to our player rankings) - remains and has an impressive supporting cast around him. I smell another undefeated conference season for Laval. And another early CIS tournament exit.
6.) Calgary (13th in RPI) - With Graham Vigrass, Calgary is probably higher in this setup. Without him, they're likely lower. Call this an uncomfortable middle ground if you will. The Dinos are likely performing every physiotherapy trick known to man on the big middle at the moment, since a Vigrass-free Calgary side will almost certainly lose to the Bisons this weekend.
7.) Western (10th in RPI) - The Mustangs opened the season effectively with four-set wins over York and McMaster. The team's Nov. 5 match at home against Queen's will provide another stiff early test. If they can weather that, Western will be in the OUA driver's seat for the foreseeable future.
8.) Thompson Rivers (6th in RPI) - This squad may not do a ton of damage in Canada West this year, but they will be fun to watch, as they adapt to an entirely new system with the departure of superstar outside Kevin Tillie to the greener pastures of Division I. Promising upset of the Dinos at home.
9.) McMaster (21st in RPI) - the Marauders are 3-1 against four of the toughest teams in the OUA to start the season and obliterated three tough squads in Windsor, Waterloo and Guelph. Much easier sledding in the next two weeks for the Maroon and Grey.
10.) UBCO (7th in RPI) - That's right. I'm ranking a team that has only existed for a matter of weeks, and are 4-8 so far in CIS play. Crazy? Maybe. But the Heat demonstrated that they are serious about translating their success on the national college circuit to the CIS as they blasted the Winnipeg Wesmen this past weekend. UBC will be a much bigger test.