Cameron Doherty, Huskie Athletics
SASKATOON – Two teams in desperate need of a win to keep their Canada West playoff hopes alive took to Ron & Jane Graham Centre court on Feb. 15 and it was the visiting University of Mount Royal Cougars that were able to get the job done, knocking off the Saskatchewan Huskies in a marathon 3-2 (15-25, 25-23, 25-22, 21-25, 15-13) victory.
"We made way too many errors and they've got some good attackers but our serving came through in the end," said Cougars head coach Sandra Lamb. "Our players grinded it out."
The win moves Mount Royal to 11-12 on the season, where they are currently one of four teams tied with 22 points. With only three teams from that group making the playoffs, the drama will go right down to the final games of the season.
For the Huskies meanwhile, the loss drops them to 9-13 and despite some heroic efforts on the road in the second half of the season, their playoff dreams have come to an end.
"It was kind of the story of our season, we were hot and cold," said Huskies head coach Mark Dodds. "We played very well at times, but unfortunately there was a little too much cold in there to sustain the consistency that's necessary to be successful in this conference."
While Saskatchewan outhit Mount Royal to the tune of .188 to .099 per cent, the most telling stat was reception errors, where the Cougars were able to pick up 12 free points in an incredibly close contest.
Cassidy Kitchen, Chantel Park and Nyadholi Thokbuom led the way for the Cougars, finishing with 20, 14 and 10 kills respectively. Thokbuom also added seven blocks and six service aces in an impressive performance from the first-year middle. Libero Nataliia Klimenova also had 17 digs in the game.
"Cassidy Kitchen played well for us, she was very steady on the outside and our libero dug some key balls for us, those two were our keys tonight," said Lamb.
Taylor Annala and Olivia Mattern were the top attackers for Saskatchewan, recording 13 and 12 kills. Annala finished the match with a game-high hitting percentage of .314 per cent and seven Huskies recorded double-digit digs in the game.
A back-and-forth first set saw the Huskies take control with a four-point run to go up 19-14. Buoyed by a crowd of 1,350 screaming students, Saskatchewan was then able to close out the first set by a score of 25-14.
Emily Koshinsky had five kills, while Mattern and Annala each put up four in a dominant opening set for the home team.
"When we were hot we passed the ball well, our setters had an easier job to do and that makes life easy for our hitters," said Dodds. "But then we get tight, everyone becomes hesitant and it's tough to win that way."
Mount Royal rebounded to go up big in the second set at 7-1 thanks to three-straight kills from Kitchen. The Cougars expanded that lead to 23-12 before a desperate Huskies squad rallied all the way back to 24-23. A big hit from Thokbuom ended the set however and tied the game back up.
Kitchen led all players with eight kills in the frame.
A back-and-forth third set saw Mount Royal take control at 22-20 thanks to a big solo block from Thokbuom. From there the visitors rode out the frame for the 25-22 victory.
Saskatchewan wasn't willing to go away without a fight however and an ace from Koshinsky ended the fourth with the Huskies winning 25-21, sending the game to a fifth and final set.
Mount Royal took control of the set, and the game, for good with four-straight points from the Cougars taking the set from tied at 5-5 all the way to a 9-5 lead for them. The Huskies did their best to conjure up another late rally, but a big swing from Thokbuom ended the game and Saskatchewan's playoff hopes in one blow.
These two teams will wrap up their regular season schedule tomorrow, Feb. 16 with the game slated to begin at 1:00 p.m. It will mark the final contest in the careers of three graduating Huskies, Georgia Hurry, Alexandra Frank and Regan Wiebe.
"Anytime that you play sports you want to win, it doesn't matter what you are playing for, we've got three players that have one last kick at the can here so we need to go out and play for them if nothing else," said Dodds.