After a four-year absence, the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack are returning to the Canada West men’s volleyball final four.
The WolfPack, with Courtenay’s Brad Gunter back in the lineup, needed all their skill in order to dispose of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in their best-of-three quarter-final. Thompson Rivers won the third and deciding match in their best-of-three series on Saturday (Feb. 15) 3-2 at the TRU gym in Kamloops. The scores were 22-25, 25-23, 16-25, 25-18, 22-20.
The Huskies had forced a third and deciding match after taking game two 3-0 on Friday night (Feb. 14).
“Three years ago, we were the worst team in Canada West,” said ‘Pack head coach Pat Hennelly after his team gutted out the five-set victory. “We are certainly not the best team in the league. But fourth place in the regular season and to win 22-20 after Saskatchewan obliterated us in the third set was something. We just calmed down and played volleyball.”
The WolfPack won the match on two serves by the TRU Bookstore/McDonalds “Leader of the Pack” player of the match Colin Carson (5th year, setter, Prince George, BC). The serves resulted in two attack errors by the Huskies.
Carson had 44 assists, a service ace, 16 digs, four solo blocks and three block assists. He says the team coming back from being down in the third set is a testament to their growth. “Two or three years ago, we would have folded. I think that showed how much we have grown.”
Carson said Hennelly told the team before the start of the fourth set that it would be their season if they didn’t pick up their play. “Obviously we came out with some fire and that was great. There isn’t anything specifically special about our team. Every guy plays a role. Even the guys who didn’t get to play today have a huge part – in practice or talking when we are out there. It is just great.”
“We have been coming out with different people and battling adversity since the beginning of the season,” Hennelly added. “When Brad (third year outside hitter) got injured, people filled in. Brad was ordinary tonight but other people stepped up. We are winning by committee. I think Brad’s injury allowed us to do that through four matches (where he missed) and helped us survive tonight.”
Gunter and Casey Knight (4th year, outside hitter, Salt Spring Island, BC) each had 14 kills to lead the TRU attack. Gunter had 36 opportunities with two assists, one service ace, eight digs and three block assists. Knight had 31 swings with six digs and a solo block.
Saskatchewan was led by Bryan Fraser (5th year, left side, Saskatoon, SK) with 15 kills in 41 chances with two service aces, 10 digs, one solo block and two block assists.
“In some cases the officiating was the difference tonight,” lamented Huskies coach Brian Gavlas. “Especially in the fourth set, but that is what happens when you are in somebody else’s gym.”
The WolfPack now prepare to head to the Langley Events Centre this Friday (Feb. 21) to meet the Alberta Golden Bears in the Canada West semifinals. The two teams split their regular season series in Edmonton this year. The WolfPack won the first set in three straight then lost to the Golden Bears in five sets.
Thompson Rivers hasn’t been to the post season in Canada West since the 2010-11 campaign where they lost to Trinity Western in two straight matches.
– TRU WolfPack