It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.
After going undefeated in the round-robin portion of last weekend’s prestigious Dino Cup volleyball tournament, the final against the University of Manitoba was supposed to be a cakewalk.
The results will be made known, but first, a few facts:
• The 1999 Dino Cup marked the first time since 1987 (when only Canadian teams participated) that two Canadian teams battled in the final
• Only once (1988 and 1989) have the Dinos won back-to-back Dino Cups.
• In 1998, the University of California Los Angeles won the first two games of the final only to drop three straight to the Dinos.
The Dinos were heavily favoured going into the final, although the Bisons have been long recognized as one of Canada’s top programs. The Jack Simpson Gym echoed with the sounds of a sell-out crowd, and dozens more observed the action on TV. The pressure the Dinos were under mirrored that which Kenny Rogers felt on the mound for the Mets just days earlier.
The Dinos ran the court in the first game, winning handily by a 25-16 score. The Bisons obviously underestimated the Dinos and hadn’t played their A-game. Turning it up a notch, the Bisons pushed the Dinos to a 28-26 win in the second game. Scores notwithstanding and history be damned, the Dino Cup appeared headed for the University of Calgary trophy case once again.
Oddly enough, something fell apart. The Bisons came out a little stronger again in the third game. They led by two points for most of the game, and the game ended just that way, with a 25-23 Bisons win.
Despite the best efforts of Dino Bill Byma, one of the few U of C players who didn’t show any wear as the match carried on, the Bisons tied the Dinos with a second win, 25-20, in game four, forcing a rubber match.
The fifth game saw the Dinos playing desperation volleyball, putting out their best efforts to taste Dino Cup glory again. Warren Henschel, a Þfth-year Dino playing in his last Dino Cup, acted a coach Greg Ryan’s field marshall, keeping morale up and pushing his teammates. Byma, Jeremy Wilcox and rookie Denis Zhukov put forth solid efforts, but it was not to be.
No one wanted to believe that the final kill was in. Not the Jack Simpson faithful, not Ryan’s troops, not the TV. audience. Okay, the Bisons believed. And it was so. The Bisons, making their first Dino Cup appearance since its inception in 1987, were champions.
"This is big," said an obviously pleased U of M coach Jim Schreyer, noting the importance of winning on the road in front of such a large crowd.
Exuding modesty, Schreyer praised the tournament itself.
"It’s great to play in front of this size of a crowd. This is a great tournament for sure."
The victory over the Dinos came as something of a surprise for Schreyer.
"We were ranked fourth, and the Dinos were ranked second. This is icing on the cake after getting to the final"
Down 2-0, Schreyer noticed that his team hadn’t been completely outplayed by the Dinos, and encouraged them to keep pushing.
"We’re famous for being in tight like that," he said.
"It’s tough," said an obviously dejected Byma, who made the tournament all-star team alongside Wilcox and Zhukov. "It’s tough to lose in our own gym, to lose to a team in our own conference."
Byma gave due credit to Bison Rob Janson, who led his team with 17 kills in the final match (although Byma himself had 32) and was named tournament MVP.
"They kept feeding Janson the ball, and we didn’t always follow our game plan."
Byma pointed particularly to the fact that the Dinos gave up the lead in the match.
"In the third, we had it sewn up, but we didn’t bounce back. We did the same thing as UCLA did last year. We can’t just sit back."
Being named an all-star was no consolation to Byma.
"I’d trade the tournament all-star for the gold medal," he said. "The all-star awards are just for the fans."