Garrett Popplestone has the opportunity to end his university career the way he wants.
The fifth-year setter and his Brandon University Bobcats are one win away from going to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport’s championship for men’s volleyball, which is where he would love to wrap up his career. The Bobcats need to win just one of their two matches at this weekend’s Canada West final four in Edmonton to make that dream a reality, and the Brandon native is motivated to make it happen.
"Definitely for me and Scott (Neufeld), it’s a great opportunity here," said Popplestone, who averaged 12 assists per set in the Bobcats’ sweep of the host Saskatchewan Huskies in the opening round of the playoffs last weekend. "We want to keep it alive. We’re just doing the best we can to make it to the end and that’s what we’re looking to do and the boys are thinking that way as well."
The road to nationals, which will be held in Quebec City from March 1-3, won’t be easy for the eighth-ranked Bobcats as the field is rounded out by the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears, the third-ranked Trinity Western Spartans and the seventh-ranked UBC Thunderbirds. Three of those teams will go to Quebec.
Brandon will play Alberta, which went 20-2 in the regular season, in the first semifinal tonight. The Golden Bears took both regular-season meetings in four sets in Brandon. However, the Bobcats are going in feeling quite confident.
"They were the measuring stick earlier in the season and we felt like we could play with them," said Bobcats head coach Grant Wilson.
"We just weren’t consist enough that weekend, but I liked the way we played last weekend and at UBCO the weekend before that. If we continue that consistency and that mindset, I think we’ll be OK."
The Bobcats were firing on all cylinders last weekend. The team controlled the ball well, giving Popplestone myriad options with his sets, which forced other teams to stop focusing on the conference’s regular-season kill leader Sam Tuivai. It also led to middle Dan Boutwell post a staggering .639 attack percentage against Saskatchewan. He had only one error on 36 attacks and earned a point on 24 of his swings.
Brandon hopes to play even better against Alberta. A victory secures a spot at nationals and gives the Bobcats a chance to win their first-ever Canada West crown. If they lose, they’ll have a second chance to book their ticket to nationals against the loser of the other semifinal between the Spartans and Thunderbirds. The Bobcats posted a 1-1 record against both of those teams in the regular season.
Popplestone, however, doesn’t want to think about either of the B.C. schools yet.
"We just go one game at a time, so all we’re focused on is Alberta right now," he said. "Everybody’s saying you have to win one game but it’s easier said than done. It’s a lot of work and we’re going to take it game by game and point by point and not look too far ahead. Looking at Alberta, that’s our only focus. We’re going to take it to them and that’s all we’ve got on our mind."