QUEBEC CITY - The Trinity Western men’s volleyball team will arrive in Quebec City this week set to compete in the U SPORTS Championship for the 10th consecutive year. The No. 2 seeded Spartans will be targeting a fifth straight appearance in the national final, while aiming for their third U SPORTS title in the last four years.
The Spartans enter this weekend’s tournament having played in seven of the last nine U SPORTS title tilts and having earned victories in four of those championships bouts, including 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017. Since 2009, the Spartans have only missed playing in the national final twice, in 2013 and 2014.
With a decade-long run of U SPORTS men’s volleyball success, the Ben Josephson-led Spartans come to Laval with eyes on winning their fifth championship in 10 years.
HOW THEY ARRIVED
The Spartans put together yet another dominant regular season with an 18-4 record, which was good for second place in the Canada West standings. The campaign was marred only be losses to U SPORTS championship-bound Brandon (twice on the road) and Alberta (once) as well as defending national champion UBC (once). The Spartans spent three weeks atop the U SPORTS rankings this year. They dropped as low as No. 4 in mid-January before climbing to No. 2 for the final five weeks of the season.
The first round of the playoffs saw TWU play local rival UBC in a rematch of the 2018 national final. Taking on a pesky T-Birds side, the Spartans needed to win a deciding Game 3 to advance to the Canada West semifinals, beating UBC in three sets to eliminate the title holders.
The victory set up a date with Thompson Rivers, who upset Alberta in its quarter-final series, and the Spartans disposed of the WolfPack with back-to-back wins – in four sets and three sets – on home court.
That win sent TWU to the Canada West final for the eighth year in a row and put together a dream matchup between No. 1-ranked Brandon and the No. 2 Spartans. The contest didn’t disappoint, going five sets before Brandon edged TWU 15-12 to secure the conference championship.
The Spartans possess two of the best outside hitters in the country, with left side Eric Loeppky, who spent time last summer training and playing with Canada’s senior men’s program, and right side Jacob Kern both earning Canada West First Team All-Star nods. With rookie Brodie Hofer having a coming out party in the playoffs, TWU has one of the most dynamic trios in U SPORTS.
Loeppky finished the regular season hitting .374 (1st in CW) while averaging 0.58 aces per set (1st in CW) and 3.59 kills per set (5th in CW). Kern finished second only to Loeppky in the conference with 0.54 aces per set while averaging 3.31 kills per set.
In the playoffs, Loeppky has continued to roll, earning 3.48 kills per set and 0.35 aces per set, while Hofer’s numbers have come alive as he’s averaged 2.33 kills per set (0.73 in the regular season) and 0.33 aces per set (0.16 in the regular season).
It’s been a TWU tradition to have strong middles and this year is no different. With fifth-year Aaron Boettcher and high-flying second-year Jackson Howe, TWU’s starting duo is arguably the best in the country. Boettcher finished third in CW with 1.22 blocks per set in the regular season and has averaged 1.13 per set in the playoffs to go with 0.52 aces per set in the postseason. As for Howe, the monster middle, who played for Canada’s Senior B Team in the summer but played the first half of this season on the right side, has been almost unstoppable since returning to the middle. In his last 12 matches, Howe hit .546 while averaging 2.04 kills per set and making a total of just 15 attacking errors (0.33/set).
Coming off the bench might just be the best “third” middle in U SPORTS history, with Pearce Eshenko, who was also with Canada’s Senior B Team in the summer, providing a ridiculous collection of depth for TWU.
In his first year as the Spartans starting setter, Derek Epp finished third in CW with 9.74 assists per set while helping TWU to a .325 hitting percentage (2nd in CW). After transferring from the University of Saskatchewan in 2017, Epp sat out a year due to transfer rules, but in his first season guiding the TWU offence, Epp, who represented Canada at the U21 World Championship in 2017, has been every bit the national-level star that his pedigree suggested.
Fifth-year Carter Bergen has been the “heart-and-soul” type leader of this team. He averaged 2.09 digs per set (8th in CW) and was one of the key leaders on this year’s Spartans team as a high-end talent with a blue-collar approach. Having tasted championship success in both 2016 and 2017, Bergen will be keen to lead TWU back to the top in his final year.