Before we dive into the weekend's proceedings, we should note that this season's player rankings have been released and can be found here. Now on to the nitty gritty of the last hurdle of the conference season.
The Swing of the Week:
Saturday, Feb. 11 - Dalhousie Tigers vs. UNB Varsity Reds: Fifth Set
Last week, we really came out guns blazing with this feature after that spectacular turn of events enjoyed by UBCO. This time around, the matches - and the feature as a result - have come back down to Earth. But with that in mind, we take you to Halifax for the fifth set of Saturday night's contest between Dalhousie and UNB.
The Tigers and Reds had tussled the night before, with the hometown team taking the match in four sets and all but sealing the top spot in the AUS. Saturday's follow up proved to be a tighter affair, despite there being very little left to play for. And with the two teams locked up at two sets apiece, the Tigers made a decisive move to begin the fifth.
After squandering the first point of the final frame, the Tigers had a slightly reduced winning percentage of 42.5. But Dalhousie would seize momentum after a solo stuff block from veteran middle hitter Daniel You leveled the score. From there, the Tigers opened a lead through kills from rookie middle Connor Maessen and outside Kenneth Rauwerda before UNB outside John Tower sent an attack out of bounds. The result was a four-point run that lent Dalhousie a lead they would not squander for the remainder of the fifth set. The Tigers had begun the sequence with a 42.5% chance of winning the match, and came out of it with a probability of 72.9%.
You Shouldn't Have Missed:
Saturday, Feb. 11 - Toronto Varsity Blues (2) vs. McMaster Marauders (3)
In a weekend chalked full of largely meaningless matches between teams locked into their respective places in the standings, the Varsity Blues demonstrated an astounding amount of courage for a squad with no playoff future. Welcoming a Marauder team to the Big Smoke that was assured of a home quarterfinal, the Blues very nearly knocked off the Maroon and Grey and claimed a late-season scalp. In fact, over the course of the five-setter on Saturday afternoon, the home side actually outscored their visitors in earned points (65-61).
Pivotal to Toronto's strong match was the team's defensive effort in the back court, where the Blues dug up 64 balls over five sets of play. The defensive work allowed for many more attempts on the part of the hosts, which told on the scoreboard. While none of the Blues' hitters were particularly efficient, the sheer number of repetitions produced points in bunches, and right side Mitch Woodside would rack up 22.5 of his own to lead the match.
And while they were largely being out-defended and out-passed throughout, the Marauders would show their individual class to prevail on Saturday. Jori Mantha was effective on the attack, notching 16 kills on 31 attempts (.484) while rookie hitter Alex Elliot converted 10 of 13 down the middle. When the Blues faded down the stretch - unable to keep up their sterling effort from the service line and on the dig - McMaster steadied and eked out a surprisingly difficult win.
How the Top Teams Fared
#1 Trinity Western Spartans (19-1) and #6 UBC Thunderbirds (10-10)
The Spartans polished off their almost-perfect season without much ado over the weekend, handing the UBC Thunderbirds a pair of bagels for their trip home. The Thunderbirds put up very little in the way of a fight over the course of the two-game series, and Rudy Verhoeff enjoyed an efficient weekend hitting at the head of the Spartan pack. Verhoeff notched 13 points on Friday and followed that with 16.5 on Saturday, hitting above .450 in both contests. The losses dropped UBC to the sixth spot in the Canada West standings, giving them a difficult quarterfinal match up against Alberta this coming weekend.
#2 Manitoba Bisons (18-2)
Much like their rivals at the top of the Canada West standings, the Bisons breezed through their final weekend of conference play. Playing a Saskatchewan team that was already eliminated from postseason contention, the Bisons needed only six sets to close out their regular season. Chris Voth and Dane Pischke proved once again why they're the most effective one-two punch in the CIS, with the former leading the way on Friday with 20 points. Pischke took his turn the next night, converting 15 of 32 hitting attempts and scoring a game-high of 17 points overall.
#3 Laval Rouge et Or (17-0)
No news on the Laval front, as the Rouge et Or idled this past weekend while Sherbrooke and Montreal battled for the right to
#4 Alberta Golden Bears (15-5) and #8 Brandon Bobcats (11-9)
The Golden Bears and Bobcats split the most competitive of the Canada West series this past weekend, moving Brandon into the fourth spot in the conference standings. Despite losing the second half of their season-ending series, the Bobcats' ascent to fourth represents a commendable run of form for a squad that has made a habit of peaking at the right time in recent years. In their Friday night win, Brandon benefited from a solid offensive night from outside Sam Tuival and standout middle Jonathan Sloane. The Kiwi outside converted 20 of 41 hitting attempts on the night and had 21.5 points overall, while Sloane notched 12 kills on 21 attempts.
In the Saturday night follow up, Alberta leaned on their seasoned outside campaigner Mitch Irvine, and the veteran delivered the goods. Irvine converted 16 of 31 attempts to help the Golden Bears right the ship as they look toward a quarterfinal encounter with UBC.
#5 Western Mustangs (16-2)
The Mustangs enjoyed the first of two weeks off, as they wait for the OUA to sort out its playoff situation. Western practices in the knowledge that they will host the conference championships in two weeks time.
#7 Calgary Dinos (11-9)
The Dinos stopped their recent slide with a season-ending trip to Regina, where they handed the Cougars consecutive straight-set losses. In opening tilt on Friday night, Calgary rolled past their hosts easily, paced by a masterful offensive performance by reigning CIS Player of the Year Graham Vigrass. The imposing middle saw the lion's share of his team's reps on Friday and made the most of them, tallying 25 points on 22 of 35 hitting. The next night, it was Vigrass' outside teammate Allen Meek who led the way with 14 points on 11 of 22 hitting and 5 total blocks. The final series was an encouragingly clean and dominant one for a team that has had its share of struggles in recent weeks.
#9 McMaster Marauders (15-3)
McMaster finished up their conference schedule with two wins over game opposition in Toronto. After the five-set struggle against the Varsity Blues mentioned earlier, the Marauders visited York and rolled out the reserves - knowing full well that they will see the Lions again in an OUA quarterfinal this coming weekend. By comparison, York decided to stick with their regulars, and that choice may have backfired spectacularly. Although the Lions pushed their Hamiltonian visitors to the brink, McMaster ultimately prevailed and enjoyed encouraging performances from a few rookie players. While middle veteran Tyson Alexander led the Marauders on the scoring charts with 17 points, it was libero-turned-outside Marc Begin who stole the show with a memorable cameo.
The Marauder rookie has seen very little action this season, sitting as he does in third on the depth chart at the libero position. But on Sunday, Begin found himself playing on the outside in a tight fourth set, and he decided to run with it. In just less than two sets on court, the rookie converted 6 of 9 hitting attempts and notched 7 points overall.
#10 Winnipeg Wesmen (7-13)
The Wesmen found themselves in a pretty unenviable position this past weekend. They had already played their final regular season match of the season, and could only watch as the UBCO Heat won their way into the Canada West playoffs at Winnipeg's expense. It's a great story for the Heat, who have clinched a postseason berth in their very first season of CIS competition. But for the Wesmen, the storyline must ring hollow, as they see their campaign come to a screeching halt. I'm sure a few drinks were consumed in the 'Peg on Saturday night.