The Brandon University Bobcats hope to get a big boost to their offensive attack just in time for the beginning of the Canada West men’s volleyball playoffs.
New Zealander Sam Tuivai, the conference leader in kills, averaging 4.35 per set, is expected to return to the Bobcats’ starting lineup as they visit the sixth-ranked Saskatchewan Huskies (15-7) for a best-of-three first-round series on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, if necessary. While the eighth-ranked Bobcats (13-9) managed a pair of wins without Tuivai — who was resting his injured left hamstring — in their final weekend of the regular season, they know how much his return will bring to the court.
"He’s our kill leader. He’s our guy," said Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson. "It would mean a lot offensively and based on how we played last weekend without him, I think we gained confidence as a group. And so to add him to that group will just give us more confidence. Certainly we’ll welcome him back with open arms."
The weekend series won’t just be about Tuivai’s return, it will also be about the Bobcats trying to earn some revenge.
Three weeks ago, the Bobcats visited the Huskies and dropped both of their matches, winning only one set in the process. Those matches left a bitter taste in the mouth of all the Brandon players as they felt they should have won them. Instead, they gave in to distractions around the court and started arguing controversial calls by the officials. They don’t want a repeat of that this weekend with their season on the line.
"I’m pretty pumped to play them for redemption," said Tuivai, who practised Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday without pain in his hamstring. "We didn’t perform as we usually perform. I have confidence that this time we will perform."
Brandon is also trying to improve on its playoff performance from last season, when it fell 2-1 in the best-of-three quarter-final to the host Calgary Dinos.
There’s nothing the Bobcats would like better than to beat the Huskies, book their tickets to the Final Four in Edmonton and have a chance to secure one of Canada West’s three berths at the CIS national championship in Quebec City. Wilson believes his team has an excellent chance of doing that based on how well they played last weekend.
"The guys are feeling good," he said. "We played pretty well last week and had some huge contributions, especially out of the middle with Dan (Boutwell) and Whitey (Brendan White), and Roy Ching from the right side. Add Sam back to that group and offensively we feel pretty good. We definitely feel that the last time we were in Saskatoon that we didn’t play our best volleyball. We’re going in there looking to play our best volleyball and giving ourselves a chance."