Dan Boutwell would love to cap his career with the Brandon University Bobcats men’s volleyball team by reaching the national championship, but getting there is stirring up memories of the end to his 2011 season.
That season, Boutwell started for the Bobcats as they lost the national final to the host Trinity Western Spartans in three sets.
Today, the fifth-year middle from Kenora, Ont., is back in Langley, B.C., with the Bobcats to take on the Spartans in the Canada West conference semifinals at 10 p.m. (canadawest.tv). The winner of that match will advance to the Canada West final on Saturday and the CIS championship in Calgary next week.
Not only do the Bobcats, ranked 10th in the country, have to deal with the second-ranked Spartans, who finished 20-2 this season, in the semifinal, they also have to prepare to play in the Langley Events Centre. Trinity Western fans are loud and the team fed off that energy to win all of its 11 home matches this season.
The playoffs will make the atmosphere that much more hostile, but Boutwell believes the Bobcats can handle it.
"Even in our gym you could see that they were loud. Being there before, their crowd gets into it and they feed off of that," said Boutwell, who is fourth in the conference with a .426 attack percentage and ninth with his average of one block per set. "I’ve said to them (teammates), I am expecting a similar atmosphere to (the 2011 national final). That being said, I’m excited for that. I liked it in there and it felt good."
The Bobcats enter the semifinal as a confident group. Brandon is one of two teams to beat Trinity Western this season, sweeping the Spartans in three sets at the Healthy Living Centre on Jan. 31 before taking them to five sets the following night.
The Bobcats are also a different team than what they showed during the regular season. All but two players missed time with injuries this season, which didn’t allow the players to get comfortable with their roles or build consistency. That resulted in Brandon going 10-12 and backing into the playoffs.
However, everyone is healthy now and the team is starting to peak, as was evident last weekend when the Bobcats won a pair of five-set matches over the fourth-ranked UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver to sweep their quarter-final.
Grant Wilson, BU’s head coach, likes what he’s seen the last few weeks and hopes his team can take another step forward today.
"To have a consistent lineup the last few weeks is starting to show," he said. "Guys are feeling comfortable with their roles and understanding what they need to do. I think if we can build off that and get better then we’ll give ourselves a good shot."
The Bobcats will have their hands full with the Spartans, who are the second-most efficient team in the country with a .328 attack percentage. They lead the nation with 3.07 blocks per set, which is part of the reason they hold opponents to a conference-low .177 attack percentage.
Brandon hopes to counter that with its tough serves and a solid passing game. Boutwell hopes his team’s attitude will translate into a victory as well so his team can play in Calgary next week.
"I think we’ve been playing for a while like every game is do or die, so it’s just like every other game," he said. "We have to come into it with that attitude."
The third-ranked Alberta Golden Bears and the sixth-ranked Thompson Rivers WolfPack, who have Brandonite Blake Majcher at libero, meet in today’s other semifinal at 8 p.m.