It’s safe to say that the Bison men’s volleyball team came into the CIS National Championships feeling confident of their chances. For good reason too, as the men finished the regular season ranked second in the nation with an impressive 18-2 record.
After the defending champions from Trinity Western defeated them in the conference finals, the two top teams appeared destined to play one more time for the National Championships a week later.
Before that dream match up could happen, both teams would have to take care of business, like they had all season long, through the first two rounds of the tournament.
For the Bisons, this meant a first round match up against Western University Mustangs. The match was only the second time that the two schools would meet up in the CIS National Champions. The Bison’s won their first match up 3-0 back in 2001, but had not played the Mustangs this season.
Playing in front of a very pro-Ontario crowd, the Bisons allowed the fifth-ranked Mustangs push them to a fifth set. Garrett May seemed ready to clinch the match for Western single-handed — he led all players with 26 kills, including some clutch attacks that gave the Mustangs an early lead in the fifth.
Before the fifth set got underway, fifth-year Bison Ryan Munt settled the team down with an impassioned speech. It seemed to work as the Bisons turned thing around and took control of the final set. It wasn’t easy, but the Bisons finally won the set 19-17 and the match 3-2 (25-33, 25-27, 25-17-22-25, 19-17).
Moving on in the tournament, Manitoba hoped to put their struggles against Western behind them as they prepared for their next opponent, Laval. The Bisons and the Rouge et Or had previously played each other in three non-conference matches before the season began. The Bisons won all three, and had not lost to Laval in the CIS National tournament since 1994.
Despite a solid first set, the Bisons had a repeat of the previous day’s uncharacteristic performance and failed to take advantage of an opportunity to go up two sets to none. Giving Laval an opportunity proved fatal, as RSEQ MVP Karl De Grandpre overcame a slow start to lead all players with 25 kills, and the Bisons came up short in the third set.
Suddenly, the Bisons found themselves on the verge of elimination in the fourth set. Despite the Bisons best efforts, the Rouge et Or would not be denied as they upset the Bisons 3-1 (15-25, 30-28, 25-22, 25-27) and moved on to the finals, relegating Manitoba to play for the bronze medal match.
“We did some great things in the first set and neutralized most of Laval but unfortunately Karl [De Grandpre] put them on his back and he played all world. We are pretty disappointed. We had four set points in the second but couldn’t get a break to win the set,” Bison men’s volleyball head coach Garth Pischke said. “We will try and put this result behind us and look ahead to the bronze game.”
In the bronze medal game, Manitoba defeated Queen’s, who hosted the tournament, 3-1 (25-22, 25-23, 19-25, 25-18). The win secured Manitoba’s 23rd CIS medal under the guidance of coach Pischke.
A third place finish is surely disappointing for the Bisons after such a successful season, but there’s some solace in knowing that the majority of this team will be back next year with something to prove.