By Woodard, Dale on March 2, 2020.
For the second time in as many years, the Lethbridge College Kodiaks men’s volleyball team will settle for silver.
However, their season isn’t over.
The Kodiaks were downed 3-1 by the Red Deer Kings in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference gold medal game in front of a loud hometown crowd Saturday night at the Val Matteotti Gymnasium.
This year’s ACAC hosts won the first set, but the Kings were able to rally with three straight set wins to claim this year’s ACAC banner, denying the Kodiaks the opportunity to do that in their own gym.
Still, both the Kodiaks and Kings earned berths in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association championship March 11-14 in Fredericton, New Brunswick as a result of making the ACAC final.
And who knows? Perhaps the Kodiaks will get another shot at their ACAC rival to the north as Lethbridge advances to its first national championship in program history.
“I think in critical moments tonight Red Deer was super clean,” said Kodiaks head coach Greg Gibos. “We knew that was part of their game plan, to come in and not make any errors and I think in moments of high intensity and high stress I thought they were a little bit stronger mentally than us. They were just a great team tonight. I’m not saying our performance was poor by any stretch of the imagination, we just lost to a really good team. The best part about tonight is we have two weeks of preparation to go beat that team in two weeks. If we need any more motivation it’s watching them celebrate on our floor tonight and getting ready to head out to Fredericton in a week. So that’s what we are looking forward to.”
The Kodiaks won the first set 25-23, but the Kings evened things up with a 25-19 second set win and took a 2-1 lead following a 25-20 decision in the third.
Like the first set, the last one came down to two points, but after a timeout with the score 24-23, Red Deer put the ACAC winning point home for the 2020 banner.
“We had our chances and we had our opportunities,” said Kodiaks middle Quinn Buchanan, who had nine kills, six blocked shots and four digs in the final. “We were up two or three points and then we went back down two or three points. It wasn’t a case of we were getting blown out or anything like that, we just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities that we had.”
The teams battled into the 20s in the fourth set as the Kodiaks looked poised to force the fifth set as the standing room-only Val Matteotti Gymnasium reached fever pitch.
“Greg called that time out after the 20s and really got us going and just telling us to play like we usually do and like weekend,” said Buchanan. “We came out there firing with lots of energy. That was what we needed, but again it was just the story of not capitalizing on the chances we had.”
All-time ACAC kills leader Carter Hansen led the Kodiaks with 16 kills Saturday night, eight digs and two service aces.
Michael Hummel added eight kills and five digs and Tony Albizzati had 10 digs. Zach Wikenheiser had 37 assists.
For the Kings, Carter Hills led the way with 16 kills and Patrik Toze was right behind with 15. Thomas Wass and Ben Holmes each had 11 digs for Red Deer. Hills added eight.
Cody Boulding put up nine blocks for the Kings.
The silver stung Saturday night, but the Kodiaks still earn the right to head east as program history-makers.
“It’s the first time in program history going to nationals for the men’s volleyball team,” said Buchanan. “So it’s going to be life-changing. It’s going to be something we remember forever. The good thing is we get two more weeks and we could potentially get another chance at this team and maybe in the finals there. So that’s what we’re looking forward to. We are going to practice hard and remember this defeat and use it as energy.”
But post-game Saturday was all about a little reflection for the ACAC hosts.
“I think we’re just going to sit upstairs and talk about it and talk about the things we want to improve on,” said Gibos. “Life and sports are all about growing, so tonight we’re going to see what lessons we learned and move on. The biggest thing for us as we get to go to practice on Monday, which only eight teams in the country get to do. There’s a silver lining. Tonight stings, tonight sucks. That’s two years in a row (getting silver), I’m not going to sugarcoat it, probably even more so that it’s on our home court tonight. But for us, we still get a chance to play volleyball and that’s all I can ask for.”
On the weekend, the Kodiaks were able to do that in front of a packed gym.
“It’s incredible. I’ve never seen this gym this loud and this pact with this many fans,” said Buchanan. This team, we’ve been counted out in bed against so often and seeing that many people coming out and supporting us is incredible. It’s incredible to know every person here is on our side. It’s this city that is on our side.”
The Kodiaks will now use that and their silver medals to push them toward a bigger goal in two weeks.
“We’ll hang the silver medals up in a place we can see it and use it as motivation,” said Buchanan. “We’re not settling with this, this is not enough for us. There’s a bigger prize we’re chasing after now.”
In the bronze medal game, the SAIT Trojans edged the Briercrest Clippers 3-2.
The Trojans fell behind 2-0 to the Clippers, but rallied back with 25-23 wins in the fourth and fifth sets before an equally-close 15-12 win in the fifth set.
Leading the Trojans was Jarett Noel with 18 kills, while Mark Anderson had 15.
Brendan Vanderlinde, Andrew Birchall and Noel hade 13, 11 and 10 digs, respectively.
Anderson, Maddux Greves and Chris Kayser each had three service aces and Evan Yakymishen had four blocked shots.
Karym Coleman pounded 28 digs for the Clippers and Bryton Codd had 13. Coleman also had 18 digs, while Brady Matchel added 16, Codd had 13 and Davis Borden chipped in with 11.
In the consolation final the NAIT Ooks downed the Keyano Huskies 3-0 as Jonathan Shapka put up nine kills for the Ooks and Daniel Ward had eight.
Katre Godin had 10 digs for NAIT.
Connor Clark had eight kills for the Huskies and Kyler Head put up 17 digs.
NOTES – Red Deer’s Toze was named the tournament Most Valuable Player.
The Tournament All-Star team was also named with Hansen, Albizzati and Hummel representing the Kodiaks. Also named to the All-Star team was Hills, Wass, Codd and Greves.
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