On March 17, the Varsity Blues men’s volleyball team lost to the University of Alberta Golden Bears 3–1 in the quarter-final of the U SPORTS championships in Hamilton. 

The Blues knew this game would be tough. The Golden Bears are the defending U SPORTS champions and are the number-one ranked team in Canada this season. Yet, while the Blues are certainly disappointed, they still impressed in their fight against the defending champions. In particular, Blues left-side hitter and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) MVP Evan Falardeau had a valiant duel with Bears outside hitter and U SPORTS MVP Jordan Canham. 

What happened

The Blues and the Golden Bears started the first set evenly, yet the Bears’ offense overpowered the Blues, giving the Bears a strong 10–6 lead. Nevertheless, the Blues were resilient and a powerful kill from Blues hitter Mitchell Neuert and a service ace from Blues setter Davis Young tied the game 12–12. 

Alberta fought back to take an 18–16 lead thanks to a service ace from Canham, his third of the set. Falardeau began to dominate, as he launched a pair of powerful kills and blocks to give the Blues their biggest lead at 20–18. The Blues slowly started to stifle the Golden Bear’s offense, and eventually a kill from Falardeau placed the Blues at the set point. Falardeau finished the setoff 25–22, giving the Blues a 1–0 lead. 

The Blues and Bears traded points with each other early in the second set. As the Blues took an 11–10 lead, Falardeau flexed to the Hamilton crowd after his powerful kill deflected off the head of a Bears player. From here on, the Blues clearly held the momentum. Falardeau continued his dominance as his tenth kill of the set gave the Blues an 18–15 lead. Yet the momentum clearly shifted, as back-to-back kills from Bears outside hitter Isaac Heslinga tied the set 18–18. Ultimately, a strong kill from Canham powered Alberta to take the second set 25–22 and tie the game 1–1. 

The third set began with the Golden Bears dominating, but the Blues stayed within reach, as a big block from Blues middle hitter John Dunning tied the set 10–10. The Bears responded with three straight points, but Falardeau took over — two straight kills reduced the deficit. After a great dig and set from Young, a kill from Dunning gave the Blues a 14–13 lead. The Blues continued to impress, preventing the Bears from taking a massive runaway lead and setting up another tight finish. Ultimately, with his 19th kill of the game, Canham secured the third set 25–22 for the Golden Bears, who took a 2–1 lead. 

The decisive fourth set began tight, as Falardeau was responsible for three of the Blues’ first four points. Attack errors gave the Golden Bears a 7–5 lead, yet a service error from Bears setter Cam Kern and another kill from Falardeau tied the set 7–7. Nevertheless, the Blues would spend much of the set chasing the Bears. An attack error from middle hitter Hayden Cavender gave the Bears a 16–12 lead, yet a kill from Cavender along with a kill and service ace from Talsma reduced the Bears’ lead to 17–16. Yet, Alberta retaliated with three straight points. 

Ultimately, two big kills from Heslinga brought the Bears a match point, and a service ace from Bears middle hitter Grayden Wiebe ended the set 25–20 and the game 3–1 in favour of the Golden Bears. 

Falardeau finished the game with 17 kills and Young finished with 33 assists and 11 digs. On the other side, Canham finished with 25 kills and three service aces. 

What’s next

The Blues defeated the Windsor Lancers 3–1 in the consolation semi-final on Friday, redeeming themselves from their loss against the Lancers in the OUA  playoffs on March 5. However, the Blues lost their fifth place match to the Montréal Carabins. Despite the tough loss on the national stage, the Blues took the game to five sets, playing hard throughout. Additionally, Falardeau was named the player of the match with 26 points in the game.