CW MVB Final Four: Spartans head to Winnipeg on a roll

CW MVB Final Four: Spartans head to Winnipeg on a roll

Brian Swane, Special to Canada West

EDMONTON - All season long, Ben Josephson's message was simple:

"Be hot and healthy at the end of the year"

And now that the Trinity Western Spartans are back in the Canada West men's volleyball semi-finals with a healthy roster, their coach can safely say it:

"Mission accomplished."

The No.1-ranked team in U SPORTS posted consecutive 3-0 wins over Winnipeg last week to sweep their quarter-final series and advance to the Final Four, taking place at the University of Manitoba this weekend.

TWU faces Alberta, while the host Bisons battle UBC in Friday's semis. The gold and bronze medal matches are slated for Saturday.

The Spartans take aim at a second consecutive Canada West title before trying to defend their U SPORTS championship. All four teams competing this weekend will move on to the FOG 2017 U SPORTS Men's Volleyball Championship, March 17-19 in Edmonton.

"Ever since last year's national final they've been thinking about how to get back to it," Josephson says of his veteran team. "Now that it's a stone's throw away, I think they're getting really hungry and have a great feel about them and really want to get going."

From the first practice the Spartans had together many months ago, they've had their mind on March. Throughout their schedule, they've prioritized development over Ws, even while starting the season 12-0, spending a season-high six consecutive weeks atop the national Top 10, and putting the exclamation point on their regular season with back-to-back wins against the first-place Bisons.

"The Canada West Final Four is such an amazing tournament that forces your team to get into the right championship mindset," Josephson says. "You're going to play two teams that are both national championship contenders at Final Four, so ... if we can win Canada West, we can win nationals and that's the message to the team and that's proven itself out: whoever wins the Canada West title is the favourite at the national tournament."

A glance at the match-ups:

(4) UBC vs. (1) Manitoba

Currently ranked No. 2 in U SPORTS, the Bisons are hosting Final Four for the first time in 13 years after finishing atop the Canada West standings and receiving a quarter-final bye. With a pair of hard-fought five-set wins to sweep Brandon last week, No. 6 UBC has now won 10 of its last 12 and are back in Final Four after a one year's absence. UBC is 8-5 away from Vancouver, but Manitoba was a perfect 11-0 at home this season and took two matches from the T-Birds, 3-2 and 3-1, at the Investors Group Athletic Centre in January.

(3) Alberta vs. (2) Trinity Western 

Alberta will try to win its ninth national title when it hosts the U SPORTS championship next weekend, but the first order of business for the Bears is capturing a record 15th Canada West title. Alberta (No.4 in the latest national rankings) finished the season winning 16 of 18, then swept Mount Royal in a best-of-three quarterfinal last week. TWU, which tied Manitoba for the conference's best regular season record at 21-3, similarly made short work of Winnipeg in the quarter-final round. These sides split a pair of games in Edmonton at the end of January.

 

Team previews

University of Alberta Golden Bears

2016-17 CW regular season record: 20-4, 3rd

2016-17 record vs. Final Four teams: 0-2 vs. Manitoba,  1-1 vs. Trinity Western, 1-1 vs. UBC

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2015 / 14

Last national championship / total national championships: 2015 / 8

 

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Points per set: 16.5, 2nd

Kills per set: 12.62, 1st

Hitting percentage: 0.289, 3rd

 

2016-17 regular season leaders:

Kills: 335 – Ryan Nickifor, Outside Hitter

Digs: 176 – Reed May, Libero

Blocks: 94 – Taylor Arnett, Middle

Aces: 27 – Brett Walsh, Setter

Assists: 985 – Brett Walsh, Setter

 

Key performer:

Brett Walsh

Setter

5th

Calgary, Alta. 

One of a handful of fifth-year student-athletes, graduating setter and team captain Brett Walsh paces the Golden Bears Volleyball team, as they chase yet another Canada West title. Walsh, a first team all-star in his final season, has led the Bears in assists in each of the past four seasons, setting a new Canada West assists record earlier this season. The only player to ever hit 4000 assists in Canada West play, Walsh gives the Golden Bears a tremendous shot at at winning their third Canada West title in four years, and entering the U SPORTS Championship in which they host as a top two seed next week. 

 

UBC Thunderbirds

2016-17 CW regular season record: 16-8, 4th

2016-17 record vs. Final Four teams:  0-2 vs. Manitoba, 0-2 vs. Trinity Western, 1-1 vs. Alberta

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 1984 / 5

Last national championship / total national championships: 1983 / 3

 

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Points per set: 15.4, 8th

Kills per set: 11.89, 8th

Hitting percentage: .241, 5th

 

2016-17 regular season leaders:

Kills: 317 – Irvan Brar, Outside Hitter

Digs: 197 – Tyson Smith, Libero

Blocks: 86 – Joel Regehr, Middle

Aces: 42 – Byron Keturakis, Setter

Assists: 918 – Byron Keturakis, Setter

 

Key performer:

Byron Keturakis

Setter

3rd

Surrey, BC

Byron's game is a multi—dimensional for the Thunderbirds. The third-year setter has incredible attacking prowess for a setter. In 2016-17 he lead UBC in assists, service aces and was second in digs. The Surrey, B.C. native was a Canada West second team all-star this season.

 

Manitoba Bisons

2016-17 CW regular season record: 21-3, 1st

2016-17 record vs. Final Four teams: 2-0 vs. Alberta, 2-0 vs. UBC: 2-0, 0-2 vs. Trinity Western

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2002-03 / 1

Last national championship / total national championships: 2002-03 / 10

 

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Points per set: 16.3, 3rd

Kills per set: 12.48, 4th

Hitting percentage: .300, 2nd

 

2016-17 regular season leaders:

Kills: 309 – Devren Dear, Right Side

Digs: 130 – Luke Herr, Setter

Blocks: 85 – Ken Rooney, Middle

Aces: 37 – Luke Herr, Setter

Assists: 830 – Luke Herr, Setter

 

Key performer:

Devren Dear

Right Side

5th year

St. Andrews, MB 

Dear, 22, earned his second consecutive conference all-star selection in his fifth season at Manitoba (2015-16: Second Team; 2016-17: First Team). In the 2016-17 conference regular season, Dear was fourth in Canada West with 3.96 kills per set and finished fifth in hitting percentage at .308 while starting all 24 conference matches. Dear was also eighth in conference points with 353.5. His versatility on the court is a highlight, as he also was T-24th in Canada West in digs per set at 1.62 and T-40th in total blocks at 43. The St. Andrews, Man. native led the team in kills (309) and his highest kill total being 27 in one match during the 2016-17 season.

 

Trinity Western University Spartans

2016-17 CW regular season record: 21-3, 2nd

2016-17 record vs. Final Four teams: 2-0 vs. Manitoba, 1-1 vs. Alberta, 2-0 vs. UBC

Last CW championship / total CW championships: 2016 / 3

Last national championship / total national championships: 2016 / 4

 

2016-17 CW regular season ranks:

Points per set: 16.9, 1st

Kills per set: 12.58, 2nd

Hitting percentage: .307, 1st

 

2016-17 regular season leaders:

Kills: 369 – Ryan Sclater, Outside 

Digs: 160 – Carter Bergen, Libero 

Blocks: 97 – Aaron Boettcher, Middle 

Aces: 39 – Aaron Boettcher, Middle

Assists: 853 – Adam Schriemer, Setter 

 

Key performer:

Ryan Slater

Outside

5th

Port Coquitlam, B.C.

Fifth-year outside Ryan Sclater had one of the most dominant attacking seasons in both Spartans and Canada West history. Sclater finished the year averaging 4.29 kills per set, while collecting a whopping 369 total kills. His kill count was the ninth most in conference history and set TWU's all-time record. Sclater also finished the year with 427.5 points, which is the fifth best single-season Canada West performance ever.

Sclater, who will finish his career as a three-time conference all-star, posted a remarkable .308 hitting percentage as the Spartans high-volume attacker while helping TWU to a program best 21 regular season wins.

The Port Coquitlam, B.C. native is now looking to become the second TWU player in three years to win the nation's top player, after Nick Del Bianco claimed the award in 2014-15.

 

MVB Final Four schedule:

Fri. 10 UBC    Manitoba   6:30 PM CST
  CW Final Four - Semis (hosted by MAN)
  Alberta    Trinity Western   8:00 PM CST
  CW Final Four - Semis (hosted by MAN)
Sat. 11 TBA    TBD   6:00 PM CST
  CW Final Four - Bronze (hosted by MAN)
  TBA    TBD   8:00 PM MST
  CW Final Four - Gold (hosted by MAN)

Watch every game on Canada West TV.