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This article was published 29/2/2020 (518 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
All signs pointed to the Assiniboine Community College Cougars writing one more chapter in their fiercest rivalry of the season.
Then a stunning upset threw a wrench in the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference women’s volleyball playoff picture.
The top-ranked Université de Saint-Boniface Les Rouges (17-3) suffered just their third loss of the season last week as the Providence University Pilots (8-12) stole the No. 3 seed from the Cougars due to head-to-head tiebreaker.
They play the 14-6 Canadian Mennonite University Blazers, who the Cougars went to five sets with three times in their five meetings.
Now ACC’s path to the final goes through a USB team that won the season series 5-0 and only dropped three sets during those meetings. They square off at CMU in Winnipeg today at 6 p.m.
"I’m honestly really excited," ACC captain Sami Love said. "… I feel like against St. B., we’ve shown we can take sets off them and just have to take the full match this time.
"They’re very good defensively. That’s a really tough thing because we normally pride ourselves in scoring and they’re a team that can stop every ball. We can stop their offenders, but they come back with a dig. It’s tough to score, but we’ve been working on finding ways to score."
The six-foot left side came to ACC from Brandon University, where she played middle at the Canada West level for two seasons. The Dauphin native wasn’t sure what to expect in the fall, but saw her group gel nicely.
"I’m really happy with how our team has finished this season. I think we’ve changed completely since September," Love said.
"In September, we were struggling in all aspects. We couldn’t play as a team, we couldn’t serve, we couldn’t pass and we couldn’t put the ball away’ that comes with a new group of girls, but now it’s completely transformed. We’re all over the floor digging balls, and putting the ball away to finish matches."
Love stepped into a bigger role, playing all six rotations instead of being switched out for a libero, and led the Cougars in kills more nights than not. She finished with a team-high 231 kills and an all-conference selection.
"Playing left side for sure is a bigger role, and I’m personally happy with how it’s gone," she said. "I’ve liked stepping up in to the leadership position and getting to play a little bit more. I think the team relies on me, and that’s not always a bad thing. I’m really happy with that this year."
The Cougars faced some extra adversity when setter Trinity Billaney had an emergency appendectomy in January. Without a true backup to run the offence, middle Paige Donald filled in for the Boissevain product.
At the time, the idea that lineup would have to be the one the Cougars entered the final four with was real.
"It was pretty hard. I got told I wouldn’t be playing again, so that was hard news because I wanted to finish off the season," Billaney said.
"It was hard watching, and Paige stepped up and did a good job, but it was definitely hard.’
"When I felt comfortable, I slowly got into things. I started practising two weeks after and I didn’t want to just half-ass it. I went full out and did everything."
Billaney returned to close out the regular season, and has a healthy arsenal of weapons at her disposal. Head coach Jeff Maxwell has rotated more than five attackers in, with outsides Skyla Vanmackelbergh, Kendra Erickson and Victoria King seeing court time, and Kate Fergusson, Donald and Maddy Neufeld serving as formidable options in the middle.
"I can move the ball around a lot, and that makes it really hard for the other team to play defence on us," Billaney said. There’s lots of different players that play different positions on our team, so you can rely on a lot of them to do their jobs and be successful."
Providence and CMU square off in the first semifinal today at 4 p.m., and the final is set for Sunday at 3 p.m., following the 1 o’clock men’s title match.
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