Zhukov must have eaten two sticks of butter…

To wrap up the men’s volleyball season, the Dinos once again returned to the unfortunately named “City of Champions” for what would prove to be a surprising, then predictable, but overall exciting weekend of volleyball.

When I first arrived in Edmonton, there was a general sense of disdain for the Dinos among fans and teams alike, and the fact that they were in the tournament was a topic of debate for some fans behind me.

Unaware of my affiliation, they proceeded to explain why “Trinity got screwed,” and how “the Dinos only beat Sask when it didn’t matter.” What they failed to mention was that despite the aforementioned victory over U of S in the Canada West bronze medal match, the Dinos were ranked lower in the tournament than the Huskies, which meant a first round match-up with Quebec “powerhouse” Laval instead of the annually feeble Toronto Varsity Blues. I later found out that two of the coaches responsible for the tournament seeding were none other than Larry McKay and Ron Pike, the coaches for Winnipeg and Trinity Western respectively. Both teams were eliminated from playoff contention by losses to the Dinos near the end of the season. Sounds like sour grapes to me.

On to the match against Laval. Prior to the match, Rouge et Or Head Coach Pascal Clement was intently scouting the Alberta Golden Bears, obviously looking past the Dinos to the semi-final with the host team. Unfortunately for Clement, the Dinos were not to be discounted, and tournament All-Star Denis Zhukov and company laid a royal butt-whoopin’ on the Rouge et Or. In a 3-0 win, the Dinos recorded a ludicrous nine service aces, six from Zhukov. Cory Paddock, known for his steady play more than his blocking prowess recorded five blocks in the first game. As the “upset” was played out, I sensed a feeling of worry among the Bears faithful around me in the stands. Talking to some Bears players, I could tell they feared that the Dinos would carry over the form they showed against Laval into an upset of the defending national champions. But it was not to be.

In the opening set against U of A, the Dinos took the life out of the Bears and the 2,000-plus fans in the stands, controlling the match with strong serving and blocking for a 25-19 victory. Unfortunately, the Bears bounced back. More specifically, the Dinos let up and let the Bears back into the match, exciting the fans once again, and setting the stage for a very uneventful three straight Bear wins, and the Dinos’ elimination from championship contention. Having repeated the result of the Canada West Final Four first round match-up, the Dinos had to regroup to hopefully repeat the result in the bronze-medal game against the U of S Huskies. This would not be an easy task considering the Huskies narrowly missed their own trip to the final, losing 13-15 to top-ranked Manitoba in the fifth set of what was undeniably one of the best matches in recent CIS history. The Bisons then went on to destroy the Golden Bears in their own gym for the national title.

The bronze-medal game showed the character of both the Huskies and Dinos, but also the emotional and physical exhaustion from their semi-final losses. In a largely uninspired battle, the two teams exchanged errors with few flashes of brilliance, until finally the Huskies seized the bronze in five sets.

The Dinos finished the season in fourth place and I can think of no reason why they should not be satisfied with this result. Losing to Alberta in their home-court is nothing to be ashamed of, and the bronze could have easily gone to either team. The boys should be proud of their upset of Laval, considering that in the eyes of many, including myself, the Dinos were the team that wasn’t supposed to be there.

What the Dinos did was send a message to the rest of the country that they are always dangerous, and will be in contention when push comes to shove. For a team who started the season 3-7, finishing fourth in the country is nothing but an overachievement. Good job Dinos, be proud.

By the way, with the four Canada West teams finishing in the top four spots, why do they bother inviting the other conferences to the party?

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