Kamloops—With their playoff fate solely in their hands, the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack men’s volleyball team head to Saskatoon this weekend for their final two matches of the 2014-15 Canada West regular season.
Although it sounds daunting, the WolfPack have been in this situation since the beginning of the calendar year. TRU has a .500 record of 11-11 – the same as Mount Royal and UBC. Their opponents this weekend, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, are 12-10 but have lost their last two outings. TRU is unbeaten in their last six and are the second hottest team in Canada West behind Trinity Western (winners of 11).
“We win both in Saskatoon and Mount Royal loses one (in Alberta) and we make the playoffs,” says WolfPack head coach Pat Hennelly. “If we split, we are out and if we lose both we are out.”
Thompson Rivers finds itself in this situation after suffering a number of key injuries in the first half of the season. One of those was to CIS Player of the Year Brad Gunter (fourth year, outside hitter, Courtenay). Gunter has returned with a vengeance and enters the final weekend of the season leading the Canada West in kills per set (4.56). He is third in service aces per set (0.40).
Hennelly says this weekend’s matchup has two evenly matched teams going head to head. “I think it is very similar to last year when we met in the playoffs (referring to TRU’s 2-1 quarter-final win). It came down to two points in the third match. We had the must-win at home last year and Saskatchewan has the must-win at home this year. The difference is that Saskatchewan has to win one while we have to win both. The league is very tight this year, except for the bottom three teams, and this weekend will be no different.”
Hennelly has his crew rolling with Gunter and Casey Knight (fifth year, outside hitter, Salt Spring Island) leading on offence. Was having the bye last week a blessing or a curse? “I think it was good for both the mental and physical well-being of our team,” the coach states. “We have been going into every weekend knowing it is do or die, so a weekend off to relax came at a good time. We had some rest and a week to work on our team without worrying about preparing.”
“I think this weekend will come down to serve and pass,” Hennelly forecasted. “Both teams are pretty balanced offensively and defensively. Both teams have a player who can put up big numbers. We knew looking at our schedule that Saskatchewan would be the toughest test of the second semester. Now we know that this weekend is a fight for a playoff spot for both teams.”
Hennelly says the Saskatchewan gym is a tough place to win. “We swept them here last year in regular season with a close first night (20-18 in fifth set). They are hosting the CIS championship this year and I expect a big, loud crowd.”
Should the WolfPack make it to the post season, they would play on the road in a best-of-three quarter-final Feb. 13-15.
– Thompson Rivers University WolfPack