By Mark Janzen, Trinity Western University
LANGLEY, B.C. – On the strength of 22 kills from Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.), the No. 2-ranked Spartans earned a 3-1 (25-18, 25-23, 23-25, 27-25) win over Manitoba in their regular season finale Saturday at the Langley Events Centre.
With its seventh straight win, TWU finished the season second in Canada West with an 18-4 record. The Spartans will open the Canada West playoffs with a quarter-final series against UBC. TWU will host the Thunderbirds (11-11), who finished seventh in the conference, in a best-of-three series, starting Thursday (8 p.m. PT) at the LEC.
Manitoba finished out of the playoffs with 7-15 record.
It was a perfect end to the match for the Spartans on senior night, as graduating senior Riley Vander Meulen (Edmonton) earned the match-winning block to secure a 27-25 fourth-set win. Fittingly, it was fellow senior Cam Slomp (Edmonton) who sparked a late rally from the service line that saw TWU comeback from a 24-22 deficit in the final set.
TWU's Jackson Howe (Calgary) had another impressive night from the middle, collecting 14 kills and committing just one attacking error while hitting .591. Senior Aaron Boettcher (Surrey, B.C.) had six kills and a team-high five blocks. Senior libero Carter Bergen (Winnipeg) had a team-high 10 digs, while senior Ben Lieuwen (Abbotsford, B.C.) had five kills.
Slomp finished the night with a career-high 46 assists.
Manitoba's Dustin Spiring had 18 kills to lead the Bisons, while Owen Schwartz had 13 kills. Brendan Warren had a match-high six blocks.
With two aces, Loeppky finished the year with 40 aces, which puts him at 126 for his career (5th in Canada West history in only three seasons).
The Spartans had 18 kills in the first set while hitting .467 en route to a seven-point win. Manitoba had four blocks to TWU's two, but were only able to hit .259 as TWU cruised to a convincing win.
The Bisons responded early in the second set and opened a 14-10 lead after back-to-back TWU errors. The home side quickly responded, crawling back into the set and taking a lead down the stretch before edging Manitoba 25-23. A Bisons serving error gave TWU the set. Manitoba hit .267 in the set compared to the Spartans .182.
Loeppky had 15 kills through the first two sets, while Spiring had 10.
The Bisons found their form in the third set, opening a 10-7 lead. The Spartans tallied three straight points to tie it, but Manitoba pushed ahead again, going up 16-12 at the technical timeout. From there, the visitors hung to pull out a 25-23 win and force a fourth set. The Spartans hit .409 as a team, while Manitoba hit .391. TWU had four blocks and four aces in the set, but it was Manitoba with a 7-4 edge in digs. The Bisons had two aces but not a single block.
Losing the third set snapped TWU's program record winning streak for sets, as the Spartans had won 20 consecutive sets.
TWU came out firing in the fourth set, building a 5-1 lead, but the Bisons slowly got back into it and grabbed their first lead of the set at 16-15 after a TWU error. Manitoba went ahead 21-18, forcing the Spartans to take a timeout. The Bisons took a 23-20 lead and then had a shot at set point, at 24-22, but Slomp came on to serve and turned the tides.
Ben Josephson – TWU Head Coach
"It was a fun match. It was fun to watch those seniors play on their special night and it was fun to get into an uncomfortable and hotly contested playoff-like match. In playoffs you're never comfortable and you're trying to scratch and claw for points and that was what tonight was. I thought the guys had a good mindset all the way through. When the volleyball was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was bad. But the mindset didn't change. That has to be the way you play a playoff game. I love that we had that type of pressure and I love how well Manitoba played tonight. You can't buy that kind of pressure.
"I'm really happy for the seniors and Riley gets the stuff for the win and Cam came on late. It was just a neat ending. I'm happy all around and now we have to get ready to play UBC."
• TWU and UBC split their regular season series in Langley, with the T-Birds winning in four and the Spartans winning in three.
• The last time TWU lost a set was against UBC on Jan. 25.
• Since their loss to the T-Birds, TWU finished the season with seven straight match wins.
• Manitoba has now dropped six straight matches.
• TWU has a 24-21 all-time record, including regular season and playoffs, against Manitoba.
The Spartans will host UBC in a best-of-three Canada West Quarter-Final series, Thursday (Game 1), Friday (Game 2) and Saturday (Game 3, if necessary).
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.