In a do-or-die match, the Trinity Western University women's volleyball team earned a spot in the CIS national championship, winning the Canada West bronze medal game in three sets over Winnipeg Saturday at the War Memorial Gym.
Set scores were 25-23, 25-18, and 30-28. While the Spartans got the victory, they didn't make it easy on themselves as they had to eke out wins in both the first and third sets after possessing four-point leads at match point on both occasions.
But in the end, Trinity Western, which took home the CIS bronze medal at last year's national championship, got the win it needed and will now travel to Hamilton, Ont. for this year's national tourney March 8-10.
Trinity Western was led by Royal Richardson, who had 10 kills and five digs, Alicia Perrin, with 11 blocks and four kills, and Kelci French, who had eight kills, eight digs, and four blocks. Setter Chelsea Hudson had 26 assists along with six block assists.
The Spartans looked poised to cruise to an easy win in the third set, up 24-20 with all the momentum on their side and a CIS berth just a point away. But the Wesmen proved to have plenty of fight left, rallying for five straight points, led by fifth-year middle Lauren Sears.
Ellina Domnidou added a kill to tie the game up, and Sears then registered her eighth kill of the night to give the Wesmen a chance at game point.
But the Spartans' Amy Leschied came up with a kill and then an ace to put Trinity Western back up one, and after the teams traded points a few times, Richardson finally put one down for the Spartans on their seventh chance at match point to send them through to the CIS tournament.
The Spartans kept the Wesmen offence out of sync all night with 16 blocks in the match. Perrin had a dominant performance in the middle, getting in on 11 of those blocks, including one solo.
"I thought our blocking was what did it for us this game. We passed well and did okay offensively, but Alicia did a fantastic job at the net," Trinity Western head coach Ryan Hofer said.
"Our wing blockers did a good job of containing it, and we picked up the ball and looked in transition for the kill."
The Spartans now have their sights set on the CIS tournament, but Hofer said they won't forget their rather lopsided loss to the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West semifinal.
"It's a high pressure weekend and we have to learn to deal with that pressure. UBC is a great team and they played us outstanding, and we played okay," Hofer said, regarding the loss to the T-Birds.
"You're not going to win a game like that. Now it's about learning from what happened this weekend and taking that forward into an even bigger tournament."
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The Spartans will join UBC and Alberta in search of more CIS glory for the Canada West conference from March 2-4 in Hamilton, Ont.