LANGLEY, B.C. – Trinity Western took Game 1 of its Canada West best-of-three semifinal series with Winnipeg, beating the Wesmen 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-21) Thursday at the Langley Events Centre.
With the win, the two-time defending Canada West champion Spartans move within one victory of advancing to the conference title game for the sixth year in a row.
On the strength of yet another impressive evening from second-year Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.), who finished with 19 kills and was named TWU's Player of the Game, the Spartans offence was clicking from start to finish. Fifth-year setter Adam Schriemer (Winnipeg) had 46 assists, as he guided TWU to a .488 hitting percentage.
Schriemer's assist total puts him in a tie for the third highest mark in a three-set match in Spartans history.
Winnipeg's Adrian Dyck had a team-high seven kills. The Wesmen were held to a .158 hitting percentage. Wesmen setter Mikael Clegg had 15 assists, while Matt Klysh had eight assists.
TWU had three aces and 18 errors, while Winnipeg had one ace and four errors.
The Spartans have now earned 17 straight wins in the playoffs, dating back to their first match of the 2015-16 postseason.
The Spartans were impressive out of the gate, hitting .571 in the first set en route to an eight-point win. The home side earned three team blocks, while holding the Wesmen to a .214 hitting percentage. Loeppky finished the set with five kills, while Ethan Duncan, who finished the night with six kills, and Dyck each had three kills for Winnipeg.
The Wesmen took an 8-4 lead in the second set, but the Spartans stormed back with a 6-1 run to up 10-9. The Spartans pushed their lead to four points by the technical timeout, with a Loeppky kill sending the TWU into the break with a 16-12 edge. After TWU went up by six at 22-16, the Wesmen clawed back with a 6-2 run, but a solo block from Schriemer sealed the win for TWU.
TWU took an 8-3 lead in the third set and rolled from there. The Spartans extended their lead to 17-11 before a never-say-die Wesmen side got back within two points, at 18-16. However, back-to-back TWU points put the Spartans back up by four. The teams traded points down the stretch with a kill from Jesse Elser (Calgary), who had 10 kills on the night, capping the match.
TWU Head Coach Ben Josephson
"When we pass the ball that well, our offence is really efficient. They're not a very big team, so we had some mismatches and the mismatches matter when you pass the ball. That's where we saw some breakdowns happen. Winnipeg has good athletes. So when you let the good athletes be athletic, they make good plays. But if we pass the ball that well, with Adam as our setter and our middle attack and our pipe, everything opens up. Passing and serving are the two things that are almost completely controlled by the brain. Passing we did well and serving we did very poorly. I thought we were tentative with our serving and the result was a really poor serving night and that's not going to be good enough to be them tomorrow night.
"Late in that third set, Winnipeg saw the crack in the wall. They saw how to beat us. We let them see it. We flinched and we opened up our vulnerability and they saw it and now tomorrow we're going to have to find a way to play a really fired up team on their last breath."
• This is the eighth year in the last 14 seasons, TWU and Winnipeg have met in the playoffs.
• TWU is 5-1 against Winnipeg in their quarter-final series meetings, with the only series loss being in 2007-08. The Spartans also beat Wesmen in the 2006-07 Canada West Final Four.
• The teams met in last year's quarter-finals, with the Spartans winning both matches in three sets.
• In regular season Spartans swept the Wesmen, winning 3-1 and 3-2.
• The Spartans Adam Schriemer (Winnipeg) and Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) were both named Canada West First Team All-Stars, while Jesse Elser (Calgary) and Jackson Howe (Calgary) were named to the All-Rookie Team.
• Winnipeg's Logan Brennan was named a Canada West Second Team All-Star.
• Ben Ball holds the TWU record for assists in a three-set match at 50, which he tallied Jan. 28, 2012 against Manitoba.
The teams meet again in Game 2 Friday at 8 p.m. (PT). Game 3, if necessary, is Saturday at 7 p.m. (PT).