The Brandon University Bobcats are heading to Quebec City for this week’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s volleyball championship with a much bigger target on their backs.
While being the eighth-ranked team in the country garners some respect, going into nationals — which runs from Friday through Sunday — as the Canada West champion earns a lot more.
On Saturday night, Brandon upset the third-ranked Trinity Western Spartans 3-1 (25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 25-15) in the Canada West final in Edmonton to win the volleyball program’s first-ever banner.
"It feels pretty good," Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson said. "It was a lot of hard work over the years and it’s great to see it pay off."
Sam Tuivai had 22 kills, a .371 hitting percentage, four aces, four blocks and nine digs for the Bobcats. Roy Ching, who made the championship-winning kill, added 15 kills and 15 digs, while fifth-year Brandonite Garrett Popplestone had 44 assists and 16 digs.
The Bobcats are on a roll — sweeping the sixth-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies in their Canada West quarter-final before knocking off the No.1-ranked Alberta Golden Bears in Friday’s semifinal — and Wilson credits it to their final weekend of the regular season. Brandon was without Tuivai that weekend, which forced them to move Scott Neufeld to left side and rookie Jeremy Davies off the bench to start at libero.
The squad gained a lot of confidence while Tuivai recovered from his hamstring injury and Davies and Neufeld have remained in their spots, and the Bobcats haven’t lost a match since.
"Those guys played phenomenal defence and passed the ball well and it just takes the pressure off our attackers and opens things up offensively and it worked out well," Wilson said.
While the Bobcats are proud of their title, they feel a little rushed getting ready for nationals. Some players were battling the flu in Edmonton and Neufeld rolled his ankle in the final. However, Wilson believes his players can recover from the quick turnaround and he hopes to bring another banner back to BU.
"It will be an interesting week ahead for sure, but hopefully we can grind it out and find a way to play well out there," he said.
CAT SCRAPS: Alberta won the bronze-medal match and will also go to nationals … Brandonite Lisa Barclay and the UBC Thunderbirds won the Canada West women’s volleyball title Saturday in Vancouver.