HAMILTON, Ont. – The Trinity Western men's volleyball team will have a chance to make history Sunday, as the three-peat seeking Spartans advanced to the U SPORTS championship match with a 3-1 (18-25, 25-23, 25-15, 26-24) win over McMaster Saturday at Burridge Gymnasium.
Playing the Marauders in their home gym, the Spartans rallied after dropping the first set, storming back to win the next three to earn a spot in the national championship game for the fourth straight year and the seventh time in the last nine seasons. The Spartans will be hoping to make U SPORTS men's volleyball history Sunday as they look to become the first team to win both the conference and national titles in three consecutive years.
TWU will play UBC, who beat Alberta in the other semifinal, in the U SPORTS championship match Sunday at 1 p.m. (PT). The Spartans and Thunderbirds split their home-and-home season series, with both teams winning on road.
The win saw TWU knock off McMaster in the national championship tournament for the fourth year in row, having beat the Marauders in the semifinals in 2015 and 2017 and in the final, in Burridge Gymnasium, in 2016.
Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) led TWU with 23 kills, three aces and one block for a total of 26.5 points over the four-set contest. Pearson Eshenko (Banff, Alta.) continued his torrid pace from the middle, with nine kills and a .750 hitting percentage. In two matches, Eshenko has yet to make an attacking error, as he has a combined 18 kills on 21 attempts.
Fifth-year setter Adam Schriemer had 51 assists to guide the Spartans to a .441 hitting percentage.
McMaster's Brandon Koppers had 16 kills and five aces to lead the way for the home side.
TWU, who has won 21 straight playoff matches, will be aiming for an unprecedented Spartans three-peat, as no TWU team, across all sports, has ever captured three straight national championships.
For McMaster, a bronze medal encounter with Alberta awaits Sunday at 10 a.m. (PT).
With TWU struggling to find their range from the service line, and their touch on reception, the Marauders jumped on the two-time defending champions, forcing them to an early timeout at 11-6 in the first set when Peter Khodkevych dusted the quick set off the block and long.
The lead swelled to seven at the technical timeout, and the Burridge Gym crowd was fully-energized, when Richards sealed the interior of a double block for 16-9. There was no resurgence to be had for Trinity Western, and after their first two set points went begging, Richards muscled a tip through the block and down for 25-18 as the hosts drew first blood.
Woken from their stuttering start, the Spartans began to find their range in the second set, and the teams found themselves locked in a back-and-forth battle. McMaster held a 15-13 lead, before Trinity Western reeled off three successive points to take the lead at the technical timeout when Marauders setter David Doty was called on a double contact.
Side-out volleyball reigned as the set approached its end, and it was the Spartans who found the opening at 23-all, following a kill from Jesse Elser (Calgary) with one from Eshenko to level the match at a set apiece.
With momentum firmly in their corner, the Spartans powered into an immediate lead in the third set, winning seven of the first eight points and forcing the Marauders into an early timeout. There was little the hosts could do to stem the tide, and they trailed by eight at the technical timeout after a kill from Jackson Howe (Calgary).
The trend held as the set sped to a conclusion, with Trinity Western hitting a remarkable .565 as a team en route to a 10-point margin of victory and a 2-1 lead overall.
Side-out volleyball returned with a vengeance in the fourth set, as McMaster raised their level in search of an edge. Schriemer took matters into his own hands to give the Spartans a 16-14 lead at the technical timeout, and Trinity Western continued to lead until a turn at the service line for Koppers, whose ace pulled McMaster ahead 22-20.
McMaster was gifted an opportunity to force a fifth when Elser blew a serve into the net for 24-23, but proved unable to take advantage, and three points later, Trinity Western brought the match to an end when Richards' attack flew well long.
TWU Head Coach Ben Josephson
"When you have all of that talent on one court on a stage this big, a great match is bound to happen. They're so prepared for us and they play a lot like us: fast, high, great defence, tough serving. So it's like playing our own team in practice. When that style happens, it's always going to be a great match, especially in this gym, because the fans are awesome here.
"I don't think we struggled at all tonight. I think it was fully about how great Mac [sic] was in the first set. They hit .350 and bombed serves against us. We couldn't pass a lick against that. What we adjusted was that we messed with the depth of our reception lines. And then we got some better touches.
McMaster Head Coach Dave Preston
"I thought we applied a tremendous amount of service pressure. (Trinity Western) responded to it in the second set. It was a four-point swing between the two sets. I'm not going to read too much into that, because that's just the game at this level. The margins are so small."
Players of the Game
Trinity Western: Adam Schriemer
McMaster: David Doty