By Paul Cartledge
EDMONTON – Despite losing a hard-fought third set going deep into extra points, the Trinity Western Spartans claimed their third Canada West title in the last 10 years, earning a 3-1 decision (25-22, 25-19, 35-37, 25-23) over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies, Saturday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Third-year Blake Scheerhoorn netted a game-high 24 kills while Canada West Second Team All-Star Ryan Sclater spun 21. Third-year setter Adam Schriemer recorded 53 assists.
Senior left side Jordan Nowakowski led the Huskies with 20 kills, fourth-years Andrew Nelson and Tyler Epp adding 15 and 12, respectively. Nominated to the conference all-rookie team, setter CJ Gavlas recorded team-highs with 53 assists and 13 digs.
Finishing the regular season with nearly identical records, it's no surprise the teams went back and forth on the scoreboard to start the championship game but Scheerhoorn's successful attack through the Saskatchewan block built enough momentum for the Spartans to spark a 7-1 run. That gave Trinity Western enough of an edge to play out the rest of the set point for point, taking a 1-0 set lead when Huskie sophomore left side Colin Fraser ended a long rally by putting his attack into the net.
The Spartans used the first-set victory to build an early 6-1 lead, but Saskatchewan roared back to make it 6-5, leading the squads back to a scoreboard battle with Trinity Western barely ahead 16-14 at the technical timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, however, the B.C.-based school exploded for six points, getting half of them off blocks to grab a stranglehold on the second set. The Huskies would do themselves in on set point when Nowakowski's serve went long to put the Spartans up by two.
Though Saskatchewan jumped out early to open the third set, Trinity Western just had more jump, finding enough momentum to inch up the score when they could, and giving it all they got, especially when Sclater dove far back beyond the service area for a dig, a long rally finishing with Scheerhoorn's kill off the block and out.
Yet despite the bigger plays to please the Edmonton spectators, the Spartans couldn't quite shake the Huskies on the scoreboard, tying things up at 24 when Nelson put a kill down the sideline.
That began a seemingly endless confrontation between the two opponents, the conflict featuring everything from major kills to service errors, clever attacks to net violations, and one wild Saskatchewan kill off the net and out at 30-31 that Trinity Western managed to avoid touching to keep the set going.
After a long rally ended with a Nowakowski kill getting through a block and finding Spartan court to make the score 35-35, a mishandled Tyler Koslowsky dig softly volleyed back over the net where Nowakowski lined up for his free point and drove it into the ground.
Gavlas' clever tip surprised the Trinity Western defence on the next Huskie attack, unable to recover and extending the match to a fourth set.
The back-and-forth affair continued early into the final set, but sophomore Aaron Boettcher helped with three straight blocks to break open the set, the Surrey, B.C. native starting a 7-3 run for the Spartans to earn a 16-9 lead at the technical timeout.
Though the Huskies started a 4-0 run down 19-12 to close the gap, and added a 5-1 run later to erase the deficit to as little as one, Fraser's wide cross-court attack followed by a Sclater snipe through the block to the short side put Trinity Western in position to claim the conference title.
Nowakowski's kill off libero Koslowsky into open Spartan court and a Nelson ace off Sclater gave Saskatchewan one last hope of making it to a fifth set, but Schriemer's tip over the net found some Huskie court to end the match for good.
Trinity Western has now won Canada West championships in 2007, 2012, and 2016. Earning silver, Saskatchewan's last conference title came in 2004.
Both teams, as well as bronze medal winner Alberta earlier today, advance to the CIS National Championship, March 10-12 in Hamilton.