Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON - It’s a Prairie party with a pacific twist, and the entire country is invited.
Canada West teams make up half the field at the 2017 FOG U SPORTS Men’s Volleyball Championship, which takes place Friday to Sunday at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton.
Joining the host Alberta Golden Bears are the Manitoba Bisons, UBC Thunderbirds, and the defending national champion Trinity Western Spartans. Other entrants include McMaster, Waterloo, Laval and New Brunswick.
“This is always the most fun week of the year,” say Spartans head coach Ben Josephson. “This is what we’ve been building for all year, and now it’s actually here.
“It’s just fun with the meetings, the banquets, the video, and then the on-court practices and all the hype and the media around. It makes it feel such a big-time event and it’s so special for the kids to get that feeling of the Super Bowl.”
Teams that are currently part of Canada West have won 21 of the last 22 U SPORTS men’s volleyball gold medals, with Alberta, Manitoba, TWU and UBC combining to account for 17 of the 21. That quartet got a taste of the intensity to expect at nationals during last weekend’s Final Four in Winnipeg, where TWU won its second consecutive Canada West title by defeating the host Bisons 3-2 in a thrilling gold-medal match.
“That the best Canada West Final Four environment that I’ve seen as a coach,” Josephson says. “It was loud, it was noisy, the fans were into it; they had horns and drums and you name it. They were beaking us pretty good, and that’s what you love. It’s playing in an environment where everyone’s excited about the game, excited to cheer and it ... was a hostile environment too.”
It reminded Josephson of the gold medal final at nationals last year, when TWU defeated McMaster on the top-seeded Marauders’ home court in Hamilton. This time around, the Spartans will feel much more at home on a Canada West court, with a lot more family and friends in the stands.
“We’ve played in that gym so many times that it’s a very comfortable gym for us to play in now, whereas when you go to an Eastern gym, often times you’ve never even been in that gym before," says Josephson.
The Spartans are trying to go back-to-back for the second time this decade, following the program’s first twonational titles in 2010 and 2011. Their quest starts in the quarterfinal round against Waterloo, followed by a potential semi-final contest with Laval or McMaster.
In a field that features all but three of the programs that have won Canadian championships since the end of the ‘80s, every point of every game of every match is going to be an absolute battle.
“Whoever gets to the final is always playing awesome, so no matter what team that is, no mater where that team is from, they’re going to be hot,” Josephson says.
All tournament games can be seen live on USPORTS.live
No. 1 TRINITY WESTERN SPARTANS
QF vs No. 8 Waterloo at 2:30 p.m. MT (1:30 p.m. PT) Fri., March 17
Regular season: 21-3, second
Playoffs: defeated Winnipeg 2-0 in best-of-three quarter-final series; defeated Alberta 3-2 in semi-final match; defeated Manitoba 3-2 in gold-medal match
Canada West awards: Player of the Year – Ryan Sclater; Rookie of the Year – Eric Loeppky; First Team All Stars– Ryan Sclater; Second Team All-Stars – Adam Schriemer; All Rookies – Eric Loeppky
National championships: 4 (2006, 2011, 2012, 2016)
No. 2 MANITOBA BISONS
QF vs No. 7 Alberta at 6:30 p.m. MT (7:30 p.m. CT) Fri., March 17
Regular season: 21-3, first
Playoffs: defeated UBC 3-0 in semi-final match; lost to Trinity Western 3-2 in gold-medal match
Canada West awards: Student Athlete Community Service Award – Ken Rooney; Coach of the Year – Garth Pischke, First Team All Stars – Devren Dear, Luke Herr
National championships: 10 (1978, 1980, 1984, 1985, 1991, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2003)
No. 3 UBC THUNDERBIRDS
QF vs No. 6 New Brunswick at 8 p.m. MT (7 p.m. PT) Fri., March 17
Regular season: 16-8, fourth
Playoffs: defeated Brandon 2-0 in best-of-three quarter-final series; lost to Manitoba 3-0 in semi-final match; defeated Alberta 3-0 in bronze-medal match
Canada West awards: First Team All Stars – Irvan Brar; Second Team All Stars – Byron Keturakis; All Rookies – Jordan Deshane
National championships: 3 (1967, 1976, 1983)
No. 7 ALBERTA GOLDEN BEARS
QF vs No. 2 Manitoba at 6:30 p.m. MT Fri., March 17
Regular season: 20-4, third
Playoffs: defeated Mount Royal 2-0 in best-of-three quarter-final series; lost to Trinity Western 3-2 in semis; lost to UBC 3-0 in bronze-medal match
Canada West awards: First Team All Stars– Brett Walsh; Second Team All Stars – Taylor Arnett, Ryan Nickifor; All Rookies – Taryq Sani
National championships: 8 (1981, 1997, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2015)