Mike Still, Bison Sports
WINNIPEG — The No. 6 Alberta Golden Bears fought back from one set down to defeat the Manitoba Bisons 3-2 (25-13, 23-25, 17-25, 27-25, 15-13) on Friday night at Investors Group Athletic Centre.
Outside hitter Taryq Sani led the way with 20 kills in a well-rounded performance for the visitors, while right side Kevin Negus paced Manitoba with 20 kills and seven service aces.
The Golden Bears got out to a 16-8 lead at the technical timeout and didn't look back, taking the first set 25-13 while combining for a .652 hitting percentage.
Left side Jackson Kennedy and outside hitter Sani led the way at the service line, putting the Bisons in some difficult serve-receive situations while also recording eight total kills.
Manitoba struggled to find a rhythm, but did get five combined kills from Negus and Dustin Spiring.
The second set was back-and-forth, with Manitoba taking an 11-8 lead thanks to some strong team blocking and notable performances from middle Brendan Warren and left side Owen Schwartz, who had five combined blocks and three kills.
The Golden Bears rallied after a timeout however, putting a five-point run together to take a 13-11 lead. Left side Alex McMullin and Sani were big during the run, with some key blocks from the former and more deceptive serving from the latter.
Negus took over shortly after however, rattling off six straight points, including four service aces as the Bisons took an 18-14 lead.
Both sides would continue to shift the momentum, with Manitoba tying things up 1-1 after a big kill from Spiring that gave them the 25-23 set win.
Kennedy was live at the net with a block and a few kills to start the third set for Alberta, however Negus and setter Kyle Martens responded on the other end as Alberta took a timeout down 9-6.
The Golden Bears struggled with their attack following the timeout, recording multiple errors, while Negus continued to perform strong at the service line, registering a service ace as the Bisons went into the technical timeout up 16-8.
Alberta's service errors continued to haunt them as they had eight in the set and continued to battle an eight-point deficit. McMullin and Kennedy continued to play well on the attack, however the deficit was too much, as Schwartz gave Manitoba a 2-1 set lead after a huge kill.
The fourth set featured a number of big rallies, with both sides trading momentum.
McMullin and Sani continued to bury the ball, however rookie outside hitter Ben Carleton stepped up big with a huge block and a few kills as Manitoba went into the technical timeout up 16-15.
"I was really happy with how he played," Bisons head coach Garth Pischke said of Carleton postgame.
"That's basically his first start in league this year and he did a lot of little things well. He's covering and had a couple of nice sets and also served relatively well. I'm encouraged."
Alberta would claw back, taking a 19-18 lead with some strong serving and attacking from Sani. The Bisons leveled the score and took a 23-22 lead however, forcing a timeout from the visitors. Team blocking played a huge factor for the hosts, with Spiring stepping up individually at the net.
The Golden Bears fought back though, winning a long set 27-25 to tie the game at two. Sani was stellar with two straight points for Alberta to seal the deal. He had five kills total and 18 through four sets.
Negus had three big kills for Manitoba, however McMullin and Kennedy tallied big kills of their own as Alberta led 8-7 with the squads switching sides.
Carleton and Negus combined for some strong attacks right after, as Alberta called a timeout trailing 9-8.
The two squads traded big kills in a high-energy close to the contest, with Alberta securing a 3-2 win with a huge block from setter Max Elgert.
"Both teams were playing really well and the hitters were on cue at the end," Pischke said. "They took a chance like a veteran team does and dove in on a block and made a block. It wasn't a bad hit."
The two teams will be back at it at 6:45 tomorrow looking to finish on a high note.