BRANDON, Man. – The No. 1 Brandon Bobcats earned the program's second Canada West conference title and first on home court in front of a capacity crowd, beating the three time defending Canada West champion the No. 2 Trinity Western Spartans 3-2 (25-23, 18-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-12) on Friday night in Brandon, Manitoba.
Brandon was led by hometown fourth-year outside Seth Friesen's 16 kills while conference Rookie of the Year Robin Baghdady finished with 15 kills and Canada West Player of the Year Elliott Viles had 13 kills.
Playing in their final match at home, fifth-year co-captains Brady Nault and James Weir had nights to remember as Nault had a match-high 11 digs and Weir had a match-high five blocks.
Steinbach, Man. product and Spartans' first-team all-star third year outside Eric Loeppky looked comfortable playing in his home province as he led all scorers with 24 kills.
Loeppky was one of three Spartans to finish in double-figure kills, as fourth year outside Jacob Kern (Edmonton) finished with 18 and second year outside/middle Jackson Howe (Calgary) had 11 on just 14 swings.
The Bobcats and Spartans lived up to the hype and provided a match for the ages in front of 1,800 fans that were lively from the first serve.
The energy in the Brandon University Healthy Living Centre was electric and the two hour and nine minute match had the feel of a championship fight from the first touch.
The first set was even throughout as the teams played side-out ball through to 23-23. Brandon was able to take the opening set after a kill by Robin Baghdady and a block by James Weir, Elliott Viles and Baghdady on TWU's Loeppky.
Trinity Western had the Bobcats under pressure with their serve but Bandon on had an answer on serve receive late in the set, playing dynamic defence which set up a .320 attack efficiency despite registering less kills that the Spartans.
Brandon fell to an early 7-1 deficit in the second and couldn't find an answer as Trinity Western hit .407 in the frame and put up 17 kills to the Bobcats' .000 clip and just six kills. TWU would lead 16-11 at the break before Loeppky closed out the set with a cross court attack to give the Spartans the set 25-18 and even up the match 1-1.
The Bobcats were the better team in the third set. Brandon led 7-6, but were able to use a 9-5 run to take a 16-11 lead into the break. TWU closed to within three points, trailing 23-20, but were unable to catch Brandon as BU took the set 25-21 and a 2-1 lead in the match.
The Spartans play at the start of the fourth set was dominating as TWU quickly led 10-5, before stretching the lead to 16-9 at the break. But Brandon slowly climbed back into the set and pulled to within one point, trailing 19-18. But TWU's Jacob Kern stopped the Brandon run to put TWU up 20-18. Fourth year middle Aaron Boettcher (Surrey, B.C.) would finish of the set, 25-22, to even up the match 2-2.
The fifth set was back-and-forth with TWU leading 8-7 at the changeover. Out of the break Brandon took a 10-9 lead. TWU would tie the set at 11-11, but back-to-back errors by the Spartans would give the Bobcats a 13-11 lead. Brandon's Viles would give the Bobcats set point at 14-11. TWU's Loeppky held off one match point before Brandon closed out the match 15-12 on a TWU attack error.
TWU Head Coach Ben Josephson
On tonight's match:
"It hurts to be that close and to not win it. But it was an amazing atmosphere. That's what college sports is all about. The fans were incredible and sustained their team through a long match. We fed off the energy too and I thought we saw the best two teams in the country go tooth and nail down to the wire. It was an epic volleyball battle.
The message was simple after the match. There are two emotions that we have to be equally balance. One is we have to feel sick about being that close to winning the Canada West championship and not doing it – feel sick about the missed opportunities and the missed plays. But that's going to be every match. There were plays that happened that we could have been better on and that could have swung the tide and you have to feel sick about that because you never know when you'll be back in these championship games. But on the other hand, we have to feel really good about the fact that for five sets our competitive mindset hung on. We battled and we were competitive and we were dialed in. We hung tough and we made plays. Between those two equal emotions, we should feel proud about the way we competed but disappointed in some of the plays we didn't make. We need to keep that mindset and competitive performance moving into nationals next week, but we have to clean up some plays and we need better performances from some athletes and coaches. That's how we move forward.
The nice part is we get a second chance to compete for the big one. We're excited to play next week. But in the meantime, we're hurt and we wanted to win that really badly. But I believe in these kids and I'm very proud of them and I'm really excited to see how we play next weekend coming out of this match."
- Early in the year the Spartans lost twice to the Bobcats in straight sets. Losing 25-20, 27-25, 25-23 on January 4 and 25-22, 25-18, 25-21 on January 5. Both matches were played in Brandon.
- The Spartans are now 18-11 lifetime against the Bobcats.
- Prior to this season TWU had beaten Brandon seven of their last nine meetings.
- TWU is 3-2 against Brandon in post season play.
The two teams switch focuses as both begin preparations to head to the U SPORTS national championship tournament next weekend. Université Laval hosts nationals March 15-17 in Quebec City.
About Spartan Athletics
As official members of U SPORTS, the Spartans currently compete in 10 sports in the Canada West conference, including women's and men's soccer, volleyball, basketball, cross country and track & field. TWU also competes in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) in men's hockey. Since TWU entered U SPORTS in 1999, the Spartans have won 11 U SPORTS team championships and 25 Canada West team championships.