Varsity Blues Volleyball Team. JULIA MALOWANY/THE VARSITY

Quarterfinal game 1: UBC vs. Montréal

The tournament began with a 3–0 Montréal Carabins win over the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds.

The match began with a close set between the two teams with the Thunderbirds finally losing the set 25–22. After this point, UBC struggled to keep its momentum going forward in the game.

In the second set, Montréal continued its strong, composed play to keep a continuous lead over the Thunderbirds, taking the set 25–18.

In the final set, the Thunderbirds tried to fight back, but Montréal continued to hit empty court and keep its defense strong with sold blocks. UBC held its ground through many tough rallies, but was unable to come out on top, falling 25–16 to the Carabins.

Montréal’s composed structure and play would prove to be difficult to overcome in their later games in the tournament.

Montréal’s player of the game was Marie-Sophie Nadeau, in her final season of CIS eligibility, who had 11 digs throughout the game. UBC’s player of the game was Abbey Keeping, also in her final season of CIS eligibility.

— Elizabeth Benn

Quarterfinal game 2: Laval vs. Trinity Western

The Laval Rouge et Or fell to the Trinity Western Spartans after initially leading by two sets. Laval’s performance was strong, however, considering that the team was ranked eighth in the seeding and Trinity Western first.

The first set was close throughout, with the Spartans eventually tying the game at 18. The score was back and forth from this point on, with Laval finally taking the set 26–24.
The Spartans came back strong in the second set, winning the initial five points. As the score grew, so did Laval’s energy; the team eventually climbed back and took the lead for the first time in the set with a 25–24 score. The underdogs scored again to give themselves a 2–0 advantage heading into the third set.

Trinity Western’s energy picked up in the third set, and their strong play resulted in their 25–15 win.

The fourth set saw stronger play than had been seen earlier from either team, with many long rallies and strong plays. The score remained close until halfway through, when Trinity Western intensified their play and eventually took the set 25–16.

In the final set, Laval’s spirit was down and the Spartans stayed ahead the entire set, only allowing their opponents one point until they reached a comfortable lead at 10–1. The team took the set 15–8, advancing to the semi-finals.

Laval’s player of the game was attacker Valerie Lemay, who topped the team with 16 kills, while Trinity Western’s was Alicia Perrin, this season’s second-best blocker in Canada.

— Elizabeth Benn

Quarterfinal game 3: U of T vs. Dalhousie

Before an enthusiastic crowd at the Kimel Family Field House came what was to be a one-sided quarterfinal match. U of T took on the Dalhousie University Tigers, who were representing the Atlantic division. U of T did not let up the entire match, taking three sets 25–10, 25–19, and 25–6. Strong play from Dalhousie’s libero Marisa Mota forced the Blues’ offence to work hard all match, but setter Madelyn Mandryk kept U of T pressing.

EVAN LUKE/THE VARSITY

EVAN LUKE/THE VARSITY

Player of the game, Bojana Radan, explains, “The entire team is very close and we have a lot of fun. We all connect and have good communication, and every single person on the team makes such a big difference.”

CIS coach of the year, Kristine Drakich, noted, “We had a solid block, good defence, and were able to make some fast transitions to make it tough on them.”

U of T’s blocking accounted for 17 of their points, more than doubling their opponent’s total of 7.

— Peter Nash

Quarterfinal game 4: Alberta vs. Ottawa

Led by player of the game Kacey Otto’s 15 kills, the University of Alberta Pandas defeated the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 3–0 in quarterfinal action on Thursday. The Pandas were able to build early leads and endure spirited comebacks by the Gee-Gees in each set, ensuring themselves a spot in the semi-finals.

The Gee-Gees were able to erase early Pandas’ leads along the way to tying the first set at 23–23. U of A maintained their composure despite the comeback and scored two quick points after a late timeout to take the tight first set 25–23.

U of A was able to build a 17–9 lead in the second set before an energetic Gee-Gees team electrified their lively fan base by closing the score to a 21–20 Pandas lead. This run was negated by a streak of five decisive points from a confident Pandas team, who took the set 25–21.

An early 7–7 tie was broken in the third set by a powerful kill from the University of Alberta’s Josephine Doerfler, and the Pandas were able to grab a 19–12 lead. The Gee-Gees brought the score to 20–16, but the Pandas stifled one final comeback attempt to take the decisive set 25–18.

The Gee-Gees were led by player of the game Myriam English, who had nine kills and nine digs during the match. Following Kacey Otto’s team-high 15 kills, the Pandas’ offensive effort was marked by Meg Cassault’s seven kills.

— Anthony Piruzza

Consolation game 1: Laval vs. UBC

The first consolation game between Laval and UBC resulted in a UBC win.

The Thunderbirds took the first easily with a 25–12 score. It was clear immediately that UBC’s defence was working overtime to ensure that none of Laval’s spike attacks caught them off guard.

Laval was quick to match UBC’s first point in the second set, but in spite of Laval’s increased tenacity UBC won 25–21.

The third and final set saw Laval showing a potential comeback. UBC landed kills right by Laval’s feet. Laval returned the favor by executing precise kills against UBC. The set remained tight right until the end of the set, but UBC came out on top winning its third and final set by a score of 33–31 after Laval’s net serve.

— Mary Githumbi

Consolation game 2: Dalhousie vs. Ottawa

The Ottawa Gee-Gees managed to defeat the Dalhousie Tigers in a three set sweep, advancing to the fifth-place game against UBC.

The three sets all ended very similarly. The Gee-Gees led by a range of 5–10 points mostly throughout the course of the game.

Myriam English was terrific from start to finish with 15 kills in the first two sets. In the second set, communication errors by the Gee-Gees were evident and allowed Dalhousie some hope, bringing themselves within four points.

But Dalhousie was only hanging by a thread with Ottawa leading 24–20, and then fell to the Gee-Gees.

In the final set of the game, Dalhousie’s sense of urgency was very evident. The Tigers would have their largest lead of the game at 6–3. However, Ottawa would resume its familiar style of play that was seen earlier in the game. Kaly Soro of Ottawa led the final set with beautiful spiked-down kills that would send Ottawa to the consolation finals.
English was named player of the game to complement her first All-Canadian First Team selection. Anna Dunn-Suen led Dalhousie with eight kills.

— Zaigham Ali

Semi-final game 1: Trinity Western vs. Montréal

Saturday’s first match ended in a 3–0 win for the Trinity Western Spartans over the Montréal Carabins.

The first set began with the Carabins appearing to have a slight edge over their opponents, but after a technical timeout, Trinity Western managed to pull slightly ahead.

Trinity Western’s Nikki Cornwall stood out as a consistently focused and energized player throughout the three sets. In the first set alone, Cornwall managed 14 assists, with her team taking the set 25–21.

In the second set, the Carabins earned an early lead, but Trinity Western turned the game around for a dramatic finish.

At set point 24–23 for TWU, an already intense set turned tense when Carabins’ Vicky Savard took a tumble and was evidently in pain as she clutched her left ankle.

The point was reset, and while the Carabins tried to remain focused, they were overtaken by TWU 25–23.

In the third set, TWU’s momentum continued to carry them through, while the Carabins, after two losses and an injured starter, tried to keep a positive outlook.

Carabins’ libero, Stéphanie Lojen, attempted to pump the girls up throughout the game and put in a lot of personal defensive effort, but the team was drowned out by the Spartans’ cleaner play, 25–18.

Carabins head coach Olivier Trudel noted: “We didn’t control the first contact tonight; when you don’t control the first contact against Trinity Western you’re going to have a tough night.”

Montréal’s player of the game Marie-Alex Bélanger explained, “We’re going into the game like [we’re playing for] the gold medal.”

Trinity Western’s head coach Ryan Hofer was ecstatic to see the Spartans moving on to the finals: “I’m pleased, I’m thrilled, we’ve never been in a national final. We’ve been working hard for it for many, many years, and I am really excited for this group of ladies.”

— India McAlister

Semi-final game 2: U of T vs. Alberta

The crowd in the Goldring Centre was loud and proud and ready for a game that would end up being a grueling five sets ending in heartbreak for the Blues and the home fans.

U of T had been hopeful to make it to the CIS finals for the first time in the team’s history. As coach Kristine Drakich explained, “This was a long and emotionally and physically tough match. We weren’t able to sustain it.”

U of T came out strong in the first two sets, with outside hitter CIS All-Canadian Charlotte Sider and third-year left side hitter Caleigh Cruikshank leading the team to two set wins in a row by scores of 25–20 and 25–23.

When the third set began, U of T’s systems began to falter and Alberta’s momentum began to build, devastating U of T 25–15.

JULIA MALOWANY/THE VARSITY

JULIA MALOWANY/THE VARSITY

U of T’s early energy surge was overtaken by Alberta’s calmer but more consistent play. With the leadership of All-Canadians Dione Lang and Meg Casault, as well as outside hitter Josephine Doerfler’s bold play, Alberta continued this momentum into the fourth set, tying the match 2–2 with a 25–18 win.

In the final set, U of T rallied but was unsuccessful, and lost a devastatingly close 15–13.

The team was upset, evident in U of T’s player of the game Jen Neilson receiving her award in tears.

Alberta, eight-time CIS finalists, were content, but not as ecstatic as were first-time finalists Trinity Western Spartans.

Alberta is now focused on the gold medal, as player of the game Doerfler explained: “We are not satisfied with silver.”

“At Canada West we got silver against Trinity… we want to do it better this time,” says Doerfler.

Jennifer Nielson was awarded player of the game for U of T.

“I think player of the game was definitely not reflected in my play,” says Nielson. “We played very strong as a collective, everyone on our team, even the bench players that came in played a role, and we all played really hard. Anyone would have been worthy of that recognition.”

U of T’s coach Kristine Drakich was disappointed by the loss but is ready for the bronze medal match up with Montréal.

“We were hoping to be in the finals — that was the plan,” says Drakich.

“Now we have to find a way to dig deep, maybe not for the medal we want, but still a medal,” Drakich says.

— India McAlister

Fifth-place game: Ottawa vs. UBC

The consolation game for fifth place took place on Sunday morning between the UBC Thunderbirds and the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Ottawa was dominant from the first set despite some miscommunication between players, winning 25–20.

Gee-Gees head coach Lionel Woods was vocal with his team members throughout the game, which had a clear effect on the team, as seen in its composure.
UBC’s composure fell in the second set. Meanwhile, Ottawa was able to stay strong and respond to tough UBC shots with strong defence.

At times UBC showed comeback potential, but was never able to get ahead of the Gee-Gees. The set was close at the end, with UBC within one point of Montréal at 23–22, but Ottawa ended up winning 25–22.

UBC won the first point of the third set but was unable to set the tone with this lead, with Ottawa coming back immediately.

This was another sloppy set towards the start with a lot of out-of-bounds hits, missed passes, and frustrating rallies. However, these mistakes were more on the UBC side, which showed in the final score.

Ottawa standout Kelsie English won the final point for Ottawa with her final kill in CIS play, winning the match for the team 25–21 and earning the team a fifth-place finish in the championships.

UBC’s Danielle Brisebois stood out for the team with 13 kills, while Ottawa’s Alix Durivage was awarded with the team’s player of the game.

— Elizabeth Benn

Bronze medal game: Montréal vs. U of T

U of T took on the Montréal Carabins for the bronze medal, but similarly to their semi-final game, the team fell in a tough 3–2 loss. Both teams were champions of their divisions after championship play.

EVAN LUKE/THE VARSITY

EVAN LUKE/THE VARSITY

U of T had a weak start to the match, losing to Montréal 25–15 in the first set. Initially, the score was back and forth, but by Montréal’s second time out, when they were up 16–11, the team maintained solid play.

The Blues picked up their energy in the second set, winning 25–20 to tie the match 1–1. Like the first set, both teams traded points until Montréal held the first two-point lead of the set, 12–10. Play resumed to see the Blues come back and hold their lead.

The Blues won the third set 25–20, advancing with a 2–1 lead. By the first timeout, the Blues had a 7–4 lead on Montréal. They maintained the lead, 12–10, until the next timeout. The Blues kept up their momentum for the remainder of the set, giving them the lead in the match.

Montréal won the fourth set 25–17, tying the match 2–2. Montréal held an 11–6 lead after their second timeout. The Blues were on the verge of cutting the deficit, but were still down 16–10 by the technical timeout. The Carabins stayed more composed than the Blues.

Montréal won the final set 15–10, winning bronze at the CIS championship. The crowd’s cheers flooded every time the Blues scored a point, getting louder and louder as the game went on. The first timeout saw the Blues down 4–6 to Montréal. After their second timeout, Montréal grew their lead by five points, up 9–4. The Blues cut the lead down to three by Montréal’s first timeout, but Montréal maintained momentum to the end.

“There were moments of greatness. I think we capitalized on those opportunities,” said Jennifer Nielson. It was a hard fight and it shows how much resilience this team had, and how much we really wanted it and put our heart into it.”

Both Nielson and Charlotte Sider stood out for the team, with 13 and 14 kills each, respectively. Sider also had 12 digs throughout the match. Defensively, Denise Wooding had a strong performance for the Blues with 19 digs. Meanwhile, the stars of the game for Montréal were Marie-Alex Belanger with 19 kills, and Stephanie Lojen with 22 digs.
“We fought really hard this year,” said Sider. “We had an almost undefeated season; obviously there was a lot of work behind that… we fought for every point this tournament… so I can’t be upset about that.”

“Unfortunately, for a few crucial moments here, we weren’t able to bring our best,” explained coach Kristine Drakich. “It’s a tremendous experience, particularly for those who are going to continue on, on how to manage these types of situations.”

“I’m very proud of all the players and the team overall, they worked very hard… We were capable of creating opportunity, but we weren’t able to capitalize. But overall, top four in the country is still respectful,” said Drakich.

“They were driven all year, all season long… Day in, day out in physical training and strategic training. To be able… to win a championship banner, [when] the last time we won it in Ontario was in 2010; that was quite a feat for us, and we played pretty solid and focused,” she said.

— Ahmed-Zaki Hagar

Final game: Alberta vs. Trinity Western

An hour after the Varsity Blues women’s volleyball team lost a five-set epic to the Montréal Carabins, the University of Alberta Pandas faced off against the Trinity Western Spartans with a CIS title on the line.

A brilliant rally to open the match set the stage for a hotly-contested first set. The teams traded points in the opening minutes, before the Pandas surged to a 19–13 lead on the back of some strong play by U of A libero Jessie Niles.

JULIA MALOWANY/THE VARSITY

JULIA MALOWANY/THE VARSITY

The Spartans battled back, but couldn’t fully climb out of the hole, dropping the first set 25–22.

The momentum with them, the Pandas jumped out to an early lead in the second set, but the Spartans battled back once again to level the score at 11.

Trinty Western outside hitter Carly Hamilton was the difference-maker early on, helping her team get back into the game with some brilliant serving.

The teams continued to trade points for the rest of the set, with the Pandas ultimately taking the second set 25–23 following several furious rallies. For such an exciting set, the final point was actually rather anticlimactic, as a Spartans miscue (a wide return) gave the set to Alberta.

The third set featured the rally of the match, as the desperate Spartans squad dove all over the court to secure an early 3–2 lead. Undeterred, the Pandas battled right back, with a fantastic Niles dig the highlight of a five-point U of A run.

The Spartans responded with some stellar play of their own, with diving saves by Nikki Cornwall and Elizabeth Wendel helping Trinity Western jump to a 13–10 lead at the mid-point of the frame.

EVAN LUKE/THE VARSITY

EVAN LUKE/THE VARSITY

The Spartans kept up the pressure, playing noticeably desperate volleyball to take the set convincingly 25–15.

The Spartans kept up the intensity in the fourth set, outscoring the Pandas 6–2 early on. The Pandas surged back yet again, pulling within two points.

With the Spartans up 9–7, Wendel killed Alberta’s momentum, making a brilliant diving save to allow her team to win one of the match’s best rallies.

The Spartans scored six straight following Wendel’s spectacular play, prompting U of A to call a timeout. The stop did little to slow the bleeding, however, and Trinity Western took the set 25–15.

Niles began the final set with a terrific dig to give the Pandas the opening point, but it was the Spartans who jumped out to an early 7–4 lead.

The Alberta coaching staff called a timeout in an attempt to regroup, but the Pandas failed to close the gap, and found themselves behind 11–6 when the Spartans called their last timeout.

Wendel followed up the timeout by effectively putting the game out of reach. The third-year outside hitter made an incredible diving save, and then unleashed a thunderous spike to put her team up 12–6.

She followed this incredible individual effort up with another stunning spike. Wendel serving for the match, into the net, 14-8. Lang block, 14-9. Spatans out of bounds, 14-10. Miscue by Spartans leads to ace by 14. Trinity Western outside hitter Royal Richardson ends it with a booming spike.

Richardson explained that the point was the greatest point of her volleyball career: “At that point you’re on such an emotional high that you’re just trying to control everything and focus in… I was like ‘I’m just going to go out swinging… and I’m going to put this ball away.’”

“Our team has been in a lot of fifth sets before,” said player of the game Wendel. “I knew my team could do it. I just knew that we had to come out firing and as soon as we put pressure on the team, they’d crumble.”

“We’ve been working all year to be as fit as we possibly could and I knew that our team could rally together because our team has been through the grind before… and I knew we could do it again,” added Richardson.

— Sampson Coutts

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