U SPORTS Communications
EDMONTON – Manitoba won't return home with the national championship they coveted after a terrific regular season, but they managed to salvage victory in the consolation final, defeating Laval in four sets on Sunday afternoon at the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men's Volleyball Championship at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Led by fifth-year setter Luke Herr, who recorded 50 assists, the Bisons beat the RSEQ champions 3-1 (25-22, 26-28, 25-23, 25-22) to secure a fifth-place finish at the nationals.
"For sure disappointing (not to claim the title), but it's good to end on a high note," said Herr, one of seven Bisons in their final U SPORTS game. "Most of our guys are done, this is our fifth year. It's a good group of guys, so it feels nice to go out with a win."
U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian Devren Dear, also graduating, led the Bisons with 20 kills as he spent the match trading highlights with powerful Laval outside hitter Vicente Ignacio Parraguirre Villalobos, who finished with 28 kills – the best single match mark of the tournament so far.
The Bisons, who last won the U SPORTS Men's Volleyball Championship in 2003 for their 10th national title, were bronze medalists in 2012. Fifth isn't up to their standards, but salvaging something is better than nothing.
"I think so," said head coach Garth Pischke, who was named U SPORTS Coach of the Year for the sixth time prior to the tournament. "We finished 2-1, we lost to a very good team that played very good against us on that particular night."
Manitoba had the advantage for most of the first set on Sunday afternoon as Dear piled up six kills on a .556 hitting percentage to lead the way. However, it was Evan Jackson's hammer off the left that ended it.
The second set was a tense back-and-forth marathon with numerous lead changes, big blocks, and thunderous kills. Dear swung from the right for a chance to end it at 26-24, but Villalobos blocked him in a battle between superstars. The Chilean national team member then won a net battle against Herr and nuked a kill from the right side before Laval won the set on a net violation.
In the third set, Villalobos really showed off his ability to destroy the ball with 10 kills, with Manitoba having trouble containing him.
"Vicente is a great spiker and very dynamic with lots of power," agreed Laval head coach Pascal Clement. "In the last three years, I think he's improved a lot. He's tried to change angles, especially when he knows the (opposition) will go for him."
"I think he needs to work on his all-around game. (His) Serving is not good enough and his blocking is not good enough at this level. By the time he will be at the same level as his spiking, he's going to be a great, great player. He's only in his third year, so he's still a young player."
Despite his dominance, Manitoba kept the game even heading into the late stages and the clutch points went Manitoba's way this time. Dear blasted one off the block and out to end it.
"I think we came through with some strong passing when we really needed it," said Pischke. "We had some blips, but when the set was on the line, I thought we really passed well and that gave us a chance to win those games.
"That's not easy to do when you're struggling with it. I don't think it was our best … certainly not as good as against New Brunswick. To do it when the game was on the line was pretty nice to see."
Manitoba clinched the fourth set by again being more clutch late as Jackson's two late kills were followed up by Ken Rooney's match-clinching smash.
Dear's output also included four blocks and seven digs, while Herr also chipped in 10 digs and two aces. Jackson added 10 kills, Rooney had nine and Dustin Spiring recorded a team-high five blocks.
"I'm really happy they played with as much confidence and belief that they were a strong team," said Pischke. "That's going to bode well for their future. Life is full of setbacks and it's about getting up the next day and swinging hard. It's a real testament to them. I think it's going to help them later on."
For Laval, who finished a position lower than their fifth-place spot in 2016, the future is bright with all but two players eligible to return next season.
"I would say we would love to play that kind of team more often, for sure," said Clement. "Manitoba's a great team. The power, the serve of their setter is huge. We don't face that kind of serve very often in our conference, so that puts lots of pressure (on us).
"When we face that kind of team, it's always going to be tough for the Quebec conference to get to the top. That's our story. We can't win every year and we haven't. But we have to work smart enough and hard enough through the year to find a way to win (at nationals). We're going to work hard as we did in the past and we will win somehow."
Besides Villalobos' output, Laval got 14 kills from fifth-year outside hitter Bruno Lortie in his final game, while rookie middle Gabriel Araya Menares recorded a game-high six blocks, and backup setter Frederic Bolduc had 53 assists and 10 digs.
Kills: Devren Dear (20)
Points: Devren Dear (22)
Blocks: Dustin Spiring (3)
Digs: Luke Herr (10)
Service aces: Adam DeJonckheere, Luke Herr (2)
Player of the match: Luke Herr
Kills: Vicente Ignacio Parraguirre (28)
Points: Vicente Ignacio Parraguirre (30.5)
Blocks: Gabriel Araya Menares (3.5)
Digs: Frederic Bolduc, Vincent Thibault-Bernier (10)
Service aces: Dany Mailloux-Desroches (2)
Player of the match: Vicente Ignacio Parraguirre Villalobos
SCHEDULE & RESULTS (All times MT)
Friday, March 17
1:00 p.m. QF 1: No 1 Trinity Western 3 vs. No 8 Waterloo 0 (25-18, 25-15, 25-23)
2:30 p.m. QF 2: No 5 McMaster 3 vs. No 4 Laval 2 (25-16, 25-11, 23-25, 19-25, 17-15)
6:30 p.m. QF 3: No.2 Manitoba 1 vs. No. 7 Alberta 3 (18-25, 25-23, 21-25, 16-25)
8:00 p.m. QF 4: No.3 UBC 3 vs No.6 UNB 1 (25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17)
Saturday, March 18
1:00 p.m. Consolation #1: No. 4 Laval 3 vs No. 8 Waterloo 0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-17)
2:30 p.m. Consolation #2: No, 2 Manitoba 3 vs. No. 6 UNB 0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-22)
6:30 p.m. Semifinal #1: No. 7 Alberta 3 vs. No. 3 UBC 2 (25-23, 25-15, 20-25, 20-25, 15-11)
8:00 p.m. Semifinal #2: No. 1 Trinity Western 3 vs. No. 5 McMaster 1 (23-25, 25-14, 25-17, 25-21)
Sunday, March 19
12:00 p.m. 5th place: No. 4 Laval 1 vs No. 2 Manitoba 3 (25-22, 26-28, 25-23, 25-22)
3:00 p.m. No. 3 UBC vs No. 5 McMaster (USPORTS.LIVE)
6:00 p.m. No. 1 Trinity Western vs No. 7 Alberta (USPORTS.LIVE)