After winning the first two sets of Sunday’s Final against Providence University College, the Canadian Mennonite University Blazers looked relieved entering the third set having a 2-0 cushion.
It was anything but an easy first two sets for CMU though, as Providence had shown up to Sunday’s Final with the #1-ranking for a reason. All-Conference selections LaRae Driedger and Shayna Staerk were on point for PUC all weekend as well as third-year setter Sam Bridle and third-year middle Sara Barker. After dropping the first set 25-22, the Pilots looked poised to even the match when they increased their lead 14-9 in the second. The size of Providence both attacking and blocking at the net overwhelmed CMU at times and it looked as if a point earned for PUC came much easier than it did for a smaller, scrappy CMU side.
CMU pulled back to within one point after middle Rayzanna Kehler went back to serve and gave her side an ace, and the two teams traded points to get to 22-all. CMU would give up just one more point en route to a 25-23 win in the second set, and all of a sudden the defending champion PUC Pilots were on the ropes.
PUC began making up for lost time in the third, playing neck-and-neck with CMU in the early stages, but once they got a 20-17 lead on the Blazers they didn’t look back and won the most important set of their season thus far, 25-22. Aside from keeping their season alive, the Pilot’s third set win put CMU back on their heels and Blazers Head coach, Evelyn Kampen, says her team forgot to take care of business on their own side of the net beginning in the third.
“You get caught in the emotions of a game, and especially against a team like that, Prov doesn’t let you go on runs, they’re not the kind of team you can make a lot of unforced errors against and we just really broke down in our serve receive..”
By the fourth set, the gym at Universte de Saint-Boniface was jam packed with fans of both the thrilling Women’s Final and the oncoming Men’s Final and each point got a raucous approval from the stands.
After winning the third, PUC managed to hold momentum and got to a giant 22-12 lead in the fourth set, the largest lead either team had seen on the afternoon. They went on to win the set 25-13, and erase the resounding start that CMU had created for themselves at the beginning of the game.
But CMU didn’t let the comeback dampen their spirits, coming out of the break with a newfound sense of urgency and both teams traded points until 2016-17 Most Valuable Player, Katie Reeves, went back to serve an ace for CMU, giving the Blazers the all-important 8-7 decision before the teams switched sides.
After the switch, PUC won three-straight points to push the game to 10-8 before giving up a small run making the game 13-12. After a 20-game season in which these two teams finished just 2 points away from each other in the standings, it was only fitting to see the Final come down to a tight, final fifth set. CMU battled and won the final three points of the game, recovering from giving up a 2-0 sets lead and winning their first MCAC Women’s Volleyball banner since 2010.
5’8″ first-year CMU Blazer left side, Katie Reeves, was named Most Valuable Player for the tournament. Reeves was the most deadly offensive attack the Blazers had all weekend and after playing a wild five-set match to earn the Blazers the trophy, the MVP said the size and strength of Providence was something the Blazers had factored into the their game plan.
“The things that we tried to focus on this game, because they’re so tall, is just to run a faster offence so that they can’t get their hands there and also passing and defence, because that’s what breaks other teams down.”
“We knew they were good defensively and they get a lot of touches. Balls that went into the crowd they went and got, and also serving. Serve receive on our side struggled because they were really tough servers”.
Kampen, who played for CMU during her college days and is all too familiar with the rivalry between Providence and CMU, was more than pleased with how Reeves’ season shaped up.
“Come January she’s been firing on every point and she’s been always been perfect in the back row. Everything about her passing and serve receive, her defence, she plays up every ball, like an absolutely phenomenal passer…but her hitting has excelled a lot more. And in this game, the clutch games I guess, that’s where she really succeeds. She loves to compete and it was awesome to see her do it again.”