LANGLEY, B.C. – The No. 1 ranked Spartans men's volleyball team advanced to the Canada West semifinals with a 3-1 (25-14, 29-31, 25-12, 25-23) win over the No. 10 Thompson Rivers WolfPack in Game 2 of the conference best-of-three quarter-finals. TWU will host either Brandon or Winnipeg in next week's best-of-three semifinal series, which will start Thursday.
Replicating Friday night, the teams each took a set before the Spartans gained momentum half way through the third set and charged ahead to earn the four-set win.
First-year Jesse Elser (Calgary) led the Spartans in kills with 18 and a .615 attack percentage while Jackson Howe (Calgary) led in blocks with seven and a .727 attack percentage. Fifth-year Adam Schriemer (Winnipeg) had 44 assists, while the team finished with a .476 attack percentage.
Tim Dobbert (Aichelberg, Germany) led the Wolfpack with 16 kills and two blocks. TRU finished with a .154 attack percentage.
The Spartans dominated the first set, going 25-14, with Elser contributing five kills. TWU led with a .500 attack percentage to TRU's -.120.
The second set saw the Spartans go up 8-3 only to have TRU claw back and eventually take a 16-13 lead at the technical timeout. The teams tied the game eight times past the 20-point mark, but TRU finally ended the set with cross-court kill from Jordan Foot (Prince George, B.C.) to win 31-29.
In the third set, the Spartans went ahead 10-6, but TRU got back within two points, at 14-12. However, with Schriemer at the service line, TWU went on a 10-0 run to secure the set. Schrierm led the Spartans with 10 assists, while Elser and Eric Loepkky (Steinbach, Man.) had five kills apiece.
In the fourth set, the Spartans led by six points at 19-13. The WolfPack came back late with a service ace from Taylor Parks, catching up from a three-point deficit to make it a one-point game at 23-22. In the end, TWU denied TRU the lead and capped the set, the match and the series with a kill from Pearson Eshenko (Banff, Alta.)
• Thompson Rivers was held to a .153 percentage on the attack and hit negative in both the first set (-.120) and third set (-.056).
• With the win TWU is now 7-2 all-time against the WolfPack in Canada West quarter-final games over the past 10 years.
• The top three teams in Canada West earn a berth into the U SPORTS national championship tournament.
• Entering the semifinals, TWU will be looking to advance to the Canada West championship match for the sixth year in a row. The Spartans settled for silver in 2013, 2014 and 2015 before winning gold in 2016 and 2017.
TWU Head Coach Ben Josephson
"Well we talked an awful lot today about what last night felt like. For a lot of us that was our first experience in the playoffs, and for some it was their first experience in the roles they're in, and for all of us it was this team's first experience in the playoffs. Along with that goes unexpected nerves, unexpected emotions, unexpected challenges that it was really fun to talk through today.
"One of the things we talked about, is every guy came up with an anchor in something that is physical and repeatable that re-focuses them or re-centres them as close to flow state as they can. After a couple of errors, we talk about getting out of your head and into your eyes, or if you get too deep in your head, we get present and get in the moment. So, we talk a lot about anchors, and each guy came up with one. Some are visual, some guys have tattoos, so they touch their tattoos, other guys dug their toes into their shoes. Just subtle things to stay present in the moment. That's really all we talked about.
"Throughout the game we just talked about anchor, anchor, and we had guys on the bench who were supposed to look at the guys on the floor and make sure they were reminded about their anchors. Really that's about it, volleyball is pretty easy at this stage in the season. It's about how you manage the pressure of a playoff match. I thought our kids did a good job of that tonight.
"Thompson Rivers was unrelenting, they didn't slow down. We were up 8-4 in the second and they ended up stealing that set, we were up 18-13 in the fourth and they came back on that too. Again, that's a credit to how tough their team is, how much (TRU coach) Pat (Hennelly) has prepared them for this weekend. After last week we beat them pretty easily I felt like in those six sets, and I don't think anything other than one set tonight and one set last night that was, let's not call it easy, but it wasn't as difficult as the others.
"I'm really impressed with how far that team has come. There's lot of great teams in Canada West, we knew this was going to be a tough one. They lived up to the billing, especially Dobbert.
"TRU has had a lot of great ones come through and he's right there with the other great ones. We want to congratulate Jordan Foot and Alex Cassels and Randy Grundmann on a great career. It's been an honour to share the court with those guys, sad to see our battles end, but I think both Randy and Jordan got to play and they showed themselves really well. We're not going to miss them because they're really good, but we are going to miss them because they're quality guys to compete against.
"Coaches have to have anchors too, mine is poise, patience and passion. That's my prayer before the game and I had P's on my sheet and after every play I circle the P's and I have to get re-centered. To handle the pressure to play well at this time of the year, you just have to reduce the game to the smallest parts and the smallest parts is a bump-set-spike or a serve-block-dig, so that's kind of all we were thinking about.
"If we were thinking about anything else, we were coming back to our anchor and reset. I'm sure we all drifted and got into our heads at times, but we did a better job of anchoring up and getting into the present.
"I will say that the two performances we had from our freshman, Elser and Howe, were incredible. They were as rattled as human beings can be rattled last night. Then, we met, and I went with them for a little bit last night, and we talked about some techniques they could do to get out of their heads and then, their numbers were insane. I mean, for those guys to have their first playoff experience and it went very poorly mentally, to come out and play great and also mentally be really tough is really exciting for me as a coach to watch young 18 and 19-year olds be able to learn overnight like that in this environment. I'm really excited about what those two kids learned this weekend. I'm excited to watch them continue next weekend."
The Spartans host the winner of the Brandon-Winnipeg quarter-final series next weekend in the semi-finals, March 1-3 at the Langley Events Centre.