By Randy Lewis
For the third consecutive year the Dinos had the opportunity to claim the Canada West championship for the University of Calgary but for the third consecutive year they came away empty-handed. Last weekend, in a repeat of last year’s conference final, the University of Saskatchewan manhandled the Dinos, winning six straight sets to sweep the best-of-three series.
Just making it to the finals required a gutsy semi-final series win on the road two weekends ago against the University of Alberta Golden Bears, a team who, a week previously, came into the Jack Simpson Gym and decimated the Dinos.
The two squads played a marathon first match of the semi-final series as the Dinos rallied back from two sets down to force a fifth and deciding set in which they prevailed 15-13.
In game two, it was the Dinos’ turn to jump out to a quick lead taking the first two sets before the Golden Bears fought back to win the third. However, the Dinos did not allow the Bears to get any closer and closed out the match winning a tight fourth set 25-23 to earn a trip to face Saskatchewan.
Unfortunately for the Dinos, the road magic did not continue last weekend in Saskatoon as the rested Huskies played nearly flawless volleyball in front of their rabid hometown fans to crush the Dinos’ dream of a conference championship. Leading the way for the Huskies was Adam Ens with 29 kills in the series. Pacing the Dinos was Conference first-Team All-Star Bill Byma who contributed 23 kills of his own, but his efforts were not nearly enough for the Dinos to overcome the balanced attack of the Huskies.
Despite mediocre play in the second half of the season, the Dinos remained nationally ranked in the top five throughout the season and the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletics Union rewarded them with a wildcard berth into the national championships this weekend at Laval. It is the third-straight wildcard selection for the Dinos who look to improve on their fifth-place finish at last year’s nationals.
One of the keys for the Dinos this weekend will be the play of second-year power hitter Denis Zhukov. With the skills and talent he possesses, he has the ability to single-handedly take over matches as he showed with 43 kills and 19 digs in the conference semi-final against Alberta. However, at times throughout the season, the Kazakh phenom has looked more like Boris Yeltsin following a Friday night shaker at the Kremlin, rather than playing at the level that netted him a Canada West First-Team All-Star selection.
The fifth-ranked Dinos’ quest for their first national championship since 1993 begins on Friday evening as they face the fourth-ranked University of Toronto Varsity Blues, champions of the Ontario Conference’s Eastern Division.