STORY AND PHOTO BY: DAVID LARKINS, Wesmen Athletics
BRANDON – History didn’t exactly repeat itself, but it gave Taylor Howe a serious dose of déjà vu.
The Winnipeg Wesmen are on to the Canada West conference semifinals after finishing off the Brandon Bobcats 3-1 (25-22, 25-14, 11-25, 25-21) in Match 3 of the best-of-three men’s volleyball quarter-final series Sunday night, a series they were so precariously close to losing less than 24 hours earlier, but one that will instead go down as one of the great Wesmen comebacks.
The Wesmen were swept in the first match Friday night and were down 2-0 in sets Saturday, facing the very real possibility that a promising season could be in its final moments.
Instead the Wesmen rallied for a five-set win to stay alive and then dominated all but a small stretch of Sunday action to put themselves through to the next round a best-of-three semifinal next weekend at Trinity Western.
It turns out the Wesmen, down in the doldrums after their Friday flop, got a psychological boost from recent history – and a story that had an eerily similar plotline to the one they just crafted.
“My first year on the team, three years ago, we came here to Brandon for quarter-finals. We were (No.) 5 being hosted by (No.) 4,” fifth-year left side Taylor Howe said. “The first night we beat them 3-0, feeling pretty good about ourselves, almost had the second night wrapped up, they came back and won in five and then they won in four the third night and we were done. It looked like we had a national-championship caliber team that year.
“After our 3-0 loss the first night, (head coach Larry McKay) said something similar reminding us of that stuff and said it’s going to be reversed, we’re going to do it, we’re going to get the next two nights and we’re going to finish their season. I think (there was a thought) that history might be repeating itself a little bit, but it was our turn to move on.”
For the third straight night, Adrian Dyck led the Wesmen with 13 kills, while adding 10 digs and a solo block.
Ethan Duncan chipped in 10 kills on 14 swings with two errors, plus had two solo blocks and four block assists.
Fifth-year libero/left side Logan Brennan had 10 digs. Brennan said he was acutely aware of the finality that stared he and his team in the face after Friday’s disappointing showing.
“You wake up Saturday morning and you know it’s potentially going to be your last (match),” he said. “Everybody came out here and wanted to fight for that last one.”
The Wesmen again mish-mashed their lineups, choosing not to start fifth-year left side David Bommersbach while putting Brennan at the left side
“That gives everybody confidence knowing that everybody here isn’t in it for themselves, they’re in it for the best of the team, and if that means sitting or if that means coming into serve, that’s what we’re willing to do,” Brennan said.
All those moving parts may just have a tangential benefit of making the Wesmen harder to scout.
“It was something we didn’t think we had on this team six months ago, having a lot of depth, but, boy, now that’s what’s carrying us through,” McKay said.
Seth Friesen had 14 kills to lead the Bobcats, who hit .153 for the match, but were held to .067 in Sets 1, 2 and 4. Elliot Viles added 11 kills.
Winnipeg out-dug the Bobcats 45-20 and hit .250 for the match.
Match 1 of the best-of-three Canada West semifinal will go Thursday at 6 p.m. CT in Langley, B.C., with Match 2 slated for Friday at 6. A third match, if necessary, would be played Saturday at 5 p.m. CT. All action can be seen on canadawest.tv