EDMONTON - With the Canada West bronze medal and the final CIS championship berth on the line, the University of Alberta Golden Bears volleyball team defeated the University of Manitoba Bisons 3-0 (25-18, 25-17, 25-14), Saturday afternoon at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Fourth-year outside hitter Ryan Nickifor led Alberta with 11 kills, while fourth-year setter, and Canada West MVP, Brett Walsh finished with a game-high 31 assists. Adam DeJonckheere spun in 11 kills for the Bisons in the loss.
Following a hugely disappointing result in the conference semifinal the previous night, the Golden Bears came out absolutely fired up, as a Bison error gave Alberta an early 5-4 lead.
"I think the guys took it to heart because we challenged them to find our own game. Yesterday I didn't feel we played our game; I don't know whether it was the two weeks off, or what it was, but we didn't play Golden Bears volleyball yesterday." said Bears coach Terry Danyluk following the win. "Trinity executed very well, but we didn't respond at all. I think we learned something from it...we obviously responded today, and I would be surprised if we go unprepared into another match this season."
Manitoba's poor play started to cost the Bisons in the first set, allowing Alberta to go on a quick 4-0 run, increasing their lead to 11-7. The squads continued to go back and forth throughout the set, with neither team able to gain a lead of more than five. Service errors also plagued both teams in the opening set, combining for eight errors and just three aces.
Following a pair of Nickifor's six first-set kills, the Bears were able to pull away to end the set, taking it 25-18.
Nickifor continued his strong play to start the second frame, spinning in his seventh kill to open the set. The Bears net game began to take control of the match, as two massive blocks, one by Nickifor and another by Ryley Barnes, gave the Bears a commanding 11-7 lead. Second-year hitter Alex McMullin added to the Bears lead with a kill of his own, before John Goranson put an end to any Bison comeback, finishing the set at 25-17.
Alberta took control to start the third set, as a Devron Dear attack error gave the Bears a 9-5 lead. Nickifor spun in another kill later in the set, before a sneaky Walsh kill put the Bears ahead 18-10. The Bisons, who were coming off a tough semifinal loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies the previous night, were just no match for a hungry Bears squad, eventually being eliminated 25-14 in the third and final set. Alberta finished the third set with an astonishing .667 hit percentage, while the Bisons finished with a pedestrian .037.
"Two teams that thought they would be playing in the final end up battling in the third place game at three in the afternoon." continued Danyluk. "One team was going to come out with more determination today, and we ended up having more than them."
The Bears will head to their 16th consecutive CIS tournament with the win, qualifying for the third and final Canada West berth. The last time Alberta failed to qualify for the CIS National Championship was back in 1999/2000.
The Bisons, meanwhile, will finish the Canada West season in fourth-place overall.