LANGLEY, B.C. – The No. 1-ranked Trinity Western men's volleyball team won the Canada West championship for the third straight year after beating Alberta 3-1 (25-16, 25-23, 14-25, 26-24) in the title bout Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
The Spartans, who were playing in their seventh straight conference championship match, entered the game as two-time defending champions and favourites to win again and they didn't disappoint, earning a four-set victory. With the win, the Spartans earned their first-ever Canada West three-peat and their fifth conference championship overall.
After the Spartans took the first two sets, an emphatic response from the Bears in the third set put the game back in the balance. In the fourth set, the Bears had a chance at set-point, at 24-23, but a service error let the Spartans off the hook and TWU took advantage. With back-to-back blocks, the home side sent the Spartan Faithful into delirium.
In a rematch of last year's U SPORTS championship match, both the course of the contest and outcome were strikingly similar, with TWU winning the first two sets in both games before Bears forced a fourth set. Similarly, in both matches, the Spartans took the fourth set by two points, with the winning point coming on a solo block. Last year, it was Aaron Boettcher (Surrey, B.C.) making the block. This year, it was first-year Jesse Elser (Calgary).
The Spartans, who also won the Canada West regular season title, will now move on to the national championship for the ninth year in a row and will enter the tournament, which will be hosted by McMaster University Mar. 16-18, as the No. 1 seed.
Alberta will also head to Hamilton, Ont. for the U SPORTS championship and will likely do so as either the second or third seed.
The Spartans Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) had a match-high 19 kills to go with four blocks and two aces, while Elser had 10 kills and three blocks. Adam Schriemer (Winnipeg) had 43 assists. Pearson Eshenko (Banff, Alta.) had five blocks.
The Bears Taryq Sani had a team-high 13 kills, while Alex McMullin had 11 kills. George Hobern had a team-high five blocks. Setter Max Elgert had 35 assists.
TWU hit .270 as a team, while holding Alberta to. 165. The Spartan had a 10-8 edge in blocks.
It was all Spartans in the first set as they hit .421 as a team, while holding the Bears to a -.136 hitting percentage en route to a nine-point win. TWU took a 2-1 lead and never trailed the rest of the set, cracking it wide open with a 5-0 run that put the Spartans up 19-9. With his fifth kill of the set, Loeppky sealed the win for TWU.
The second set was much closer, but once again it was the Spartans taking the set thanks to a late surge. With Alberta up 20-18, TWU went on a 3-1 run to even the set 21-21. After the Bears got a point back on a Spartans service error, the home side finished the set on a 4-1 run, capped by a kill from Jackson Howe (Calgary).
Building momentum from a tight second set, the Bears raced out to an 8-2 lead in the third set thanks to a 6-0 run. After that, Alberta rolled, hitting .714 as a team and committing just one attacking error in the set as the Bears ran away with an 11-point win. A kill from Sani ended the set, forcing a fourth set.
On the strength of back-to-back aces from Loeppky, the Spartans opened a 6-2 lead in the fourth set. But Alberta came right back, eventually evening the set at 11-11. A quick dump at the net from Schriemer sent TWU into the technical timeout with a one-point lead. The Bears responded out of the break, going up 23-21 after an ace from Hobern. From there, two straight Spartans points evened the set, before a kill from the Bears Arran Chambers put Alberta on set point. But, as it turned out, that would be the Bears final point of the night.
"That's how championship games tend to go. You win some sets clean because you play well and you win some sets gross because they play well. That's exactly what happened. In the first set, we were great and they were bad. Then, in the second set, frankly, we stole that one. We made 14 unforced errors and still found a way to win and that's where the match swung. We stole a set we shouldn't have. Then they kicked our butts in the third by playing great. Then, the fourth set was a straight up competition.
"In our experience, what tends to happen is that it's never clean in these championship matches. The fact that they replaced five starters from last year's championship game and got back to this game is amazing. We replaced three and that was a big haul, but they replaced five and it was still Bears and Spartans in the final.
"There are a lot of lessons in how it got away from us in the third set. I think we showed our youth and inexperience in that match. I feel like some of the veteran guys probably tried to do more than they needed to and I thought the younger guys were doing a good job. And, as a coaching staff, we didn't make the right adjustments quick enough and that's just because we haven't been in this spot much with this group. But I'm glad we had this experience, because we'll be a whole lot more stable now moving forward having experienced this type of game with these guys."
• TWU has now earned wins over the Bears in six straight outings over the last 14 months, including last year's Canada West semifinal.
• The championship game featured the two teams who have now combined to win the last five Canada West championships. Prior to TWU's three consecutive championships, the Bears won the conference banner in 2014 and 2015.
• TWU previously won the conference title in 2007, 2012, 2016 and 2017.
• The Spartans have won 19 straight playoff matches, dating back to 2015-16. TWU's last playoff loss was against Calgary in Game 1 of their best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series.
Both the Spartans and Bears will now head to Hamilton, Ont. for the U SPORTS Championship, which will be hosted by McMaster University Mar. 16-18.