By Lethbridge Herald on March 16, 2020.
On a very busy final day of the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association men’s volleyball championship, the Lethbridge Kodiaks fell just shy of a medal.
Facing the Volontaires de Sherbrooke for the second time in three days, the Kodiaks dropped a heart-stopping 3-2 decision to their Quebec counterparts in the bronze medal game Saturday afternoon in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
Playing in an empty gym due to no spectators being allowed in due to the COVID-19 virus, the Kodiaks opened up a 2-0 lead in the bronze medal game, but could not clinch the third set and a national medal as Sherbrooke rallied back with three consecutive set wins.
The fifth set went past the 15-point mark with the Kodiaks holding point serve twice, but Sherbrooke put away the final two points for an 18-16 comeback win and the bronze medal.
The loss capped off a long day for the Kodiaks, who earlier Saturday got past their Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference rival Red Deer Kings in five sets in the bronze medal semifinals.
“I think it just goes to show the quality of individuals in our program,” said Kodiaks head coach Greg Gibos.
“I think we have guys who are willing to work so hard for one another and it’s just based on the fact they actually do care about each other and in moments of high stress and in moments of high resiliency, they were there for each other tonight. I’m so incredibly proud of how they represented our program and our community over the last eight months. I don’t think we can ask for anything much more from a Kodiak’s volleyball team.”
In the bronze medal final, the Kodiaks won the first set 25-17 and grabbed a commanding 2-0 lead with a 30-28 set win after Sherbrooke opened with a 5-0 lead and held a 16-11 advantage at one point.
But Quebec answered back with a 25-20 third set win before forcing the battle to 15 with a close 25-23 victory in the fourth set.
The fifth set remained as close as the previous four.
The Kodiaks held an 8-7 lead as the teams switched sides halfway through and held point serve at 15-14.
The point-swapping continued to the 16-point mark before Sherbrooke managed to nudge ahead by two to end the entertaining match.
“We kind of broke the match down and it wasn’t like there was one point that lost that match,” said Gibos. “It was just two good teams playing really good volleyball and we just happen to be on the wrong end of an 18-16 fifth set. I thought our guys played incredibly well today. Nash Shipton really stepped up into a role after Zach (Wikenheiser) was injured earlier in the tournament and I think that match today was just a roller coaster, lots of highs and lots of lows, but both teams showed a lot of resiliency and good battle back. Those were the two things we saw tonight.”
Four Kodiaks hit double digits in kills in Saturday’s bronze medal game.
Carter Hansen led the way with 18, while Tony Albizzati, Michael Hummel and Quinn Buchanan each had 12.
Malcolm Fisher had 18 digs. Hansen, Hummel and Albizzati had 12, 11 and 10, respectively. Albizzati also dished out three service aces.
Nash Shipton had 50 assists in the bronze medal game.
In the bronze medal semifinal against the Kings Hansen put up 21 kills and five service aces and Buchanan had 12 kills.
Hummel had nine digs and Hansen added eight.
Shipton had 42 assists, filling in for Wikenheiser, who was injured in the Kodiaks nationals-opener Thursday, which was also against Sherbrooke and also a five-set loss, this time with Lethbridge rallying from two sets down.
“I think Nash has learned so much from Zach over the course of the year,” said Gibos. “Those two guys worked great together and I know Zach gave him a ton of knowledge throughout the course of the year. So when he came into it, I knew Nash was prepared and ready. He’s been a great feature in the program and what a coming out party for that guy because I think he’s going to be one of the best setters in the league for a long time and he got to prove that on the national stage.”
For his efforts, Shipton was named a CCAA Second-Team All Star, while Hansen earned a spot in the CCAA First All-Star team.
The sting of a narrowly-missed national medal aside, the Kodiaks berth at nationals was the first in program history and their 3-0 win over the Holland Hurricanes on Friday their first on the CCAA stage.
It proved a fitting swan song for Hansen, Hummel, Wikenheiser and Albizzati, who earned Player of the Game honours for the Kodiaks in the bronze medal game.
Gibos said the foursome’s presence will be felt well down the road.
“Something that I know they could take a lot of solace in is their presence and their ability in our program will always be there,” he said. “There is going to be a little bit of Carter Hansen in the next generation of Kodiak volleyball players because he was such a big part of it and he gave all of himself to it. Both him and Mike were built that way, same with Zach and Tony. Those guys are going to live forever just based on the fact they’ve given pieces of themselves to everybody in this program.
“When you hear about the next Nash Shipton or the next Nolan Moes when those players become great it’s because what Carter and Mike and Zach and Tony did for this program over the last couple of years. We are so grateful for everything that they have done and we are even more grateful for the support we have received from our community and we hope we represented everybody well and I hope they had a good ride with us.”
In the gold medal game, the Capilano University Blues from North Vancouver beat the Humber Hawks of Toronto in three straight sets.
Follow @DWoodardHerald on Twitter