Mark Janzen, Trinity Western University
LANGLEY, B.C. – On the strength of 11 kills apiece from both Brodie Hofer (Langley) and Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.), Trinity Western's No. 2-ranked men's volleyball team won Game 1 of its Canada West best-of-three semifinals 3-1 (25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 25-15) over Thompson Rivers Thursday at the Langley Events Centre.
With TWU holding an 11-10 lead in the fourth set, the Spartans went on a 7-1 run to take control of the set and the match. With an 18-11 lead, TWU rolled to a win in the fourth set, taking the match after TRU committed its 24th serving error of the night.
The Spartans will now have a chance to win the series with a victory in Friday's Game 2 (9 p.m.), which would send TWU to the Canada West championship match for the eighth year in a row.
After TWU took the first two sets, a hard-serving WolfPack side found its rhythm in the third set, winning by three points to force a fourth set. However, TWU's Derek Epp (Saskatoon) and Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) both went on short serving runs to spark TWU's mid-set push and set the Spartans up for the win.
Loeppky, who was named a Canada West First Team All-Star earlier in the week, finished the night with 11 kills, four aces and three blocks, while first-year Brodie Hofer (Langley), who made the CW All-Rookie Team, had 11 kills, six digs, two blocks and an ace. Jackson Howe (Calgary) had six kills on eight attempts, hitting .750, to go with four blocks.
Charlie Bringloe had a team-high 11 kills for TRU, while setter Anton Napolitano had 30 assists, three aces, three blocks and four kills. Star outside Tim Dobbert, who was named a CW First Team All-Star, was held to eight kills and hit .067.
The Spartans had a 12-7 edge in aces while both teams had seven blocks apiece. TWU hit .262, while TRU hit .170.
The Spartans came out strong in the first set, with Loeppky collecting five kills and TWU hitting .389 as a team en route to a five-point win. Dobbert had four kills in the set, but it wasn't enough as the Spartans took the opener needing just nine kills thanks, in part, to seven serving errors from the WolfPack.
The second set saw Hofer and Loeppky earn four kills each and TRU pick up another seven serving errors. TWU had six serving errors in the set, but with a late run, pulled away for the win. Trailing 22-21, the Spartans rallied with four straight points, capped by back-to-back kills from Hofer to seal the win.
With Napolitano serving, the WolfPack raced out to a 5-1 lead in the third set and then pushed its edge to 10-3 after an ace by Sam Taylor Parks. TWU climbed back into the set thanks to a 5-0 run that included three straight aces from Jacob Kern (Edmonton). But the WolfPack swung back and got to set point at 24-19. On its fourth chance at set point, Taylor Parks finished the set with a kill.
The fourth set was close early on until TWU broke it open midway through the set and never looked back. TWU hit .389 as a team while holding the WolfPack to .059 as the home side took the series-opener in convincing fashion.
Ben Josephson – TWU Head Coach
"It was the top two ace teams in the conference going at it. Anytime you serve tough and generate points from the baseline, you're going to generate errors from the baseline. With that, the attack efficiencies are super low, the kill numbers are super low, but the aces are high and the misses are high. This game is about who can serve tough and sustain it. We served really well in the first and fourth and won those games fairly handily. They served really well in the second and the third and the second was super close and the third they blew us out. That's the way this series is going to be. It's big boy, macho volleyball out here."
• Last year, TWU earned a series sweep over TRU in the CW quarter-finals, with TWU winning both matches in four sets.
• This weekend's series will mark the fifth time TWU and TRU have met in a Canada West playoff series in the last 11 years.
• TWU is 8-2 all-time in the post-season against the WolfPack, with the Spartans winning the last three series.
• The Spartans are 34-6 all-time against TRU.
• TWU has won 24 straight matches against the WolfPack, including the regular season and playoffs.
• TWU is on a quest for its fourth straight Canada West title.
The Spartans and WolfPack play Game 2 Friday at 9 p.m. (PT) at the LEC. Game 3 (if necessary) is Saturday.