By Randy Lewis
It’s a little early to be predicting the national championship match in March, but fans at the Jack Simpson Gym last weekend were likely treated to a preview of it when the University of Manitoba Bisons paid a visit to the U of C. Fortunately for the home team, the gold medal was not at stake as Manitoba buffaloed Calgary, sweeping the weekend series. This marked the first time this season that the U of C lost back-to-back regular season games.
Manitoba came out with a solid effort in Friday night’s match, while, as Coach Greg Ryan later described, the Dinos were "a little overcharged". Their woeful kill efficiency of 15 per cent (compared to Manitoba’s gaudy 41 per cent) combined with 14 service errors throughout the match was the recipe for disaster as the home team fell to the defending national champions 3-0.
The beginning of Saturday’s match looked promising for the home squad. The intensity on the court and in the stands was immense and it translated into a crisper and much better match on both sides of the net.
With the Bisons leading 22-21 in the first set, an untimely and controversial yellow card against the Dinos swung the set and possibly the match in favour of the visitors. Instead of serving down a single point, Manitoba regained service up 23-21 and the Dinos could not come back, losing the set 25-22.
"That’s definitely not what you want; a call like that between 20 and 25 points is critical," said Ryan. "If we win that set, the game takes on a different complexion."
The Dinos dropped the second set 25-21, and while the third set was theirs for the taking, several key service errors late not only deflated the home crowd but more importantly allowed the Bisons to remain alive. The visitors were able to close out the match and the weekend sweep, 32-30.
Ryan said serving was one thing discussed at length this week.
"Between 20 and 25 points, we don’t want to make service errors. We didn’t do that before Christmas," he remarked. "Even if it means taking five miles an hour off your serve, at least they have to play the ball."
Despite the losses, Calgary remains atop the Canada West conference standings at 11-3, but with Alberta and Saskatchewan closing the gap, every remaining match is important for playoff positioning.
A bright spot in an otherwise dreary weekend was the performance of fifth-year power hitter Mark Ellingson. His kill percentage of over 54 per cent was by far the highest on the team during the weekend. This was especially impressive considering Manitoba’s ability to thwart the Calgary attack with strong blocking at the net and some extraordinary back row play that involved hurdling courtside seats in order to keep the ball in play.
This upcoming weekend provides another tough test for the Dinos as they journey to Winnipeg to play the eighth-ranked University of Winnipeg Wesmen.