EDMONTON - Trinity Western arrives in Edmonton this week as the No. 1 seed in the U SPORTS championship tournament, as the Canada West champion Spartans take aim at winning their second-ever national title.
The Spartans enter the national tournament on the heels of a three-set win over Calgary in the Canada West final, which saw TWU earn its third conference crown in the last five years, including 2015 and 2016.
After missing out on the U SPORTS championship last year, TWU returns to the championship stage for the ninth time in the last 10 years
HOW THEY ARRIVED
The Spartans had an historic start to the 2018-19 season, winning a program record 16 straight matches to start the regular season and, including preseason, going 25-0 through the first three weeks of January. The record run put the Spartans atop the U SPORTS rankings for four consecutive weeks. Back-to-back losses against UBC snapped TWU’s winning streak, as the Spartans finished the season with losses in five of their last eight outings.
However, once the playoffs arrived, TWU re-established its early-season rhythm, winning five straight matches to capture the conference title. The Spartans knocked off Mount Royal in back-to-back quarter-final contests to not only advance to the Canada West semifinals, but also secure a spot in the U SPORTS championship tournament. From there, TWU beat Alberta in a pair of four-setters to move on the Canada West final, where the Spartans made short work of Calgary, beating the Dinos in three sets.
On the left side, Canada West First Team All-Star Hilary Howe has helped lead the Spartans offensively, averaging 4.1 points per set (7th in CW) and 3.24 kills per set (9th in CW). A two-time conference all-star, Howe averaged 3.68 kills per set in the playoffs (3rd in CW) and 2.42 digs per set. Joining Howe on the left side has largely been first-year Savannah Purdy, who was the Canada West Rookie of the Year after averaging 2.62 kills per set (16th in CW) and a 2.58 hitting percentage (10th). Purdy enters the national tournament coming off a performance in the conference final that garnered her the Canada West First Star of the Week, having tallied a match-high 10 kills while hitting .769.
On the right side, the bulk of the load has been shouldered by fifth-year Ashtyn McKenzie, who averaged 1.43 kills per set and 2.29 digs per set and has hit .346 in the playoffs (2nd in CW), while fellow fifth-year outside Micaylee Pucilowski has averaged 1.76 kills per set coming off the bench.
The middle duo of Mikaelyn Sych and Avery Heppell has been amongst the very best all season. Sych, who transferred to TWU this year from Portland State University, and Heppell, who was named to last year’s U SPORTS All-Rookie Team, combined for 2.36 blocks per set while leading TWU to a Canada West best average of 2.61 blocks per set in the regular season.
Sych, who was named a Canada West Second Team All-Star, was also at another level on the attack, as she averaged 2.54 kills per set while hitting .379. Both middles were impressive from the service line with Heppell leading the Spartans with 0.45 per set (8th in CW) and Sych third with 0.40 per set (15th in CW).
Brie King (O’Reilly) has taken her game to another level this year and for her efforts was most deservedly awarded a Canada West Second Team All-Star honour. King averaged 9.22 assists per set (4th in CW) while leading the Spartans to a .234 hitting percentage (2nd in CW). She also was a key server, earning 0.41 aces per set (13th in CW). Beyond that, she had 2.55 digs per set and was a sneaky threat at the net with a total of 42 kills (0.61 per set) in the regular season. In the playoffs, King’s been better in almost every statistical category, averaging 10.37 assists per set, 2.89 digs per set, 0.84 kills per set and 0.95 blocks per set. Backing up King is Olivia Heinen, who won four of the six matches she started when King was shelved with an injury.
First-year Emma Gamache has burst on the scene as a rookie and played in all but one of TWU’s 24 regular season matches. She averaged 3.49 digs per set (9th in CW) and has been a steadying defensive force for the Spartans. In the playoffs, Gamache has averaged 3.47 digs per set (8th in CW).