That has to be one of the most exciting volleyball games I've ever seen. Both teams came out slugging early, but Laval looked to have the upper hand when they won a close third set 25-23 to take a 2-1 lead. Trinity Western refused to quit, though, winning the last two sets to advance to the final. The final set, which ended 20-18 in favour of the Spartans, could have gone either way, but in the end, they did enough to hang on.
Steven Marshall had a tremendous night for the Spartans, finishing with 25 kills. He said the whole team took their game to a new level.
"It was amazing," he said. "It was the best game we’ve had this season. I think we played as a team, as a whole. We helped each other all game."
Trinity Western demonstrated a great deal of depth; Marshall and Rudy Verhoeff (11 kills, 10 blocks) were both huge in the Spartans' comeback, with other players like Marc Howatson (16 kills) and Josh Doornenbal (9 kills) coming up big when called upon. By contrast, Laval relied mostly on the efforts of star hitter Frederic Desbiens (22 kills), with some support from Karl De Grandpre (14 kills); both had solid games, but the rest of the team didn't contribute too terribly much, which may have caused some fatigue down the stretch. Marshall said depth has been a strength for Trinity Western all season.
"We’ve always had tons of guys coming in and helping out," he said. "It’s made a huge difference all season."
I'd imagine the Spartans' experience playing tough teams all year also helped with their resurgence. Marshall said they've played a lot of close games all year, which gave them confidence after they fell behind two sets to one.
"We always felt we were going to get it," he said. "We knew this was going five from the beginning"
Interestingly, this sets up yet another final between Canada West teams. Before last year, when Laval finished second, Canada West had swept the medals seven straight years. The conference has also won 37 of the 43 national championships, and the last 15 straight titles; that streak is safe with Trinity's victory.
As I suggested this afternoon, I don't think it's necessarily an inherent talent advantage that makes western teams so dominant these days; that used to be a larger part of it, but the increased numbers of athletic entrance scholarships in other provinces and the increased role of national recruiting have helped to diminish that.
The little advantages remain, though. Trinity plays in an incredibly competitive conference, where they went 11-7 in the regular season this year. Seven of the teams in the final Top 10, including Trinity, were from the West; they face six of those teams in league play, which has to help sharpen their edge. By contrast, Laval was ranked #1 in that top 10, but they were the lone Quebec entrant; their best league competition was probably the Montreal Carabins, who lost in three sets to Laval in their first match at nationals and in four sets to Queen's in their second match. The rest of the Quebec league was even further behind. That doesn't take anything away from Laval; they certainly proved that they deserved to be at nationals and probably deserved the #1 ranking they received heading in. It does perhaps go towards explaining how an 11-7 Canada West team can upset a dominant Quebec team; those little edges you pick up from facing top competition all year can make a significant difference.
[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]