EDMONTON (U SPORTS) – No. 5-seeded McMaster held off hard-charging No. 4 Laval with a 17-15 win in the fifth set to advance to the semifinal of the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men's Volleyball Championship at the Saville Community Sports Centre on Friday.
McMaster hit the gas pedal and went up 2-0, before needing a rally of their own in the fifth set to close out Laval 3-2 (25-16, 25-11, 23-25, 19-25, 17-15).
"First off, Laval played outstanding," said McMaster head coach Dave Preston. "They're so well prepared. I was very happy with the job we did in the first two sets. I thought we stuck to exactly what we saw on film and did exactly what we wanted to do.
"They made some adjustments and it took a while for us to respond. I thought we did a really good job down the stretch in the fifth of squashing that momentum Laval had a little bit and I thought we played much, much better in the fifth than we did in the third and fourth."
Brandon Koppers led the Marauders with 21 kills on Friday, while Vicente Igancio Parraguirre Villalobos led the Rogue et Or with 18 kills; Gabriel Araya Menares and Hugo Leger – huge in the middle for the Rouge et Or – chipped in 12 and 11, respectively.
The Marauders' victory sets up a rematch of the 2016 national final, when they'll take on defending champion Trinity Western in the second semifinal on Saturday at 8 p.m.
"It's great," said big McMaster's towering outside hitter Jayson McCarthy, whose team lost 3-1 to the Spartans a year ago. "They're a great serving, great blocking, great passing team. I love the matchup. They have nice big left sides and I'll try to challenge them. I think it's going to be a really good game."
As hyped as that one will be, it might not end up topping what fans just witnessed on Friday afternoon. McMaster looked to be in complete control early in the match, but it ended up turning into an epic battle of two fired up teams.
Despite being on the ropes after a deflating 14-point defeat in a second set they were never really in, Laval showed a hero's courage in refusing to wilt.
"We played a volleyball game where we did not at the beginning," summed up Laval head coach Pascal Clément of the turnaround that saw them take the next two sets. "We were intimidated and a little shy to play against a big team.'
"I told the guys in the third set that it's not going to be easy, but we've got to take it one by one," he continued. "We have to at least fight, to present ourselves as a good team – the Rouge et Or. If we lose, at least we'll lose by playing well at the end.
"We mixed our lineup. We changed some players in the rotation and it balanced our offence a little bit more. I think Vincent (Thibault-Bernier) dug lots of good balls and that inspired our team. It picked up the guys and we put pressure on them."
Laval refused to die, discovering some jam early in the third set, taking a 3-0 lead and holding a slim advantage nearly all the way through. McMaster, however, clawed back behind their terrific block defence and managed to tie the set 23-23. The Rouge et Or put it away when Parraguirre Villalobos launched a massive left-side kill.
McMaster struggled with poor passing in the fourth set, culminating in an overbump and golden opportunity that Gabriel Araya Menares drooled over before slamming it untouched to the floor. A point later, the set ended on a missed serve.
Preston switched back and forth between setters Andrew Kocur and David Doty in an attempt to find the right attack combination.
"You switch an outside hitter, you switch one spot, you switch a setter, you switch all five," he explained. "They had a lot of momentum."
"For us to make one change would have done a little bit of good, but if you change a setter you can change a lot. I thought we did a pretty good job. David coming into the fourth, we got some momentum back, so I was pleased with that."
Led by Danny Demyanenko's six blocks, McMaster's block defence proved to be the difference at several stages of the match. They wound up winning the net battle 19-9, which was a big key in overcoming some passing challenges.
The Marauders trailed most of the fifth set and it looked to be going the Rouge et Or's way when Frederic Bolduc painted the back line for an ace that brought Laval within a point of victory at 14-12. But McMaster's U SPORTS FirstTeam All-Star Demyanenko drew the teams even at 14 on a quick hitter up the middle.
After a couple of traded kills and a Laval miss, Koppers ended it with a smash off the block from the left side.
"I'm very sorry for the guys," said Clément. "In sport, you don't deserve to win, you have to earn your points. But emotionally, I have to say we deserved to win that match by the end, but there were a few points there that we missed and we lost patience."
Kills: Brandon Koppers, 21
Points: Brandon Koppers, 22
Blocks: Danny Demyanenko, 6
Digs: Jayson McCarthy, 11
Service aces: Jayson McCarthy, 2
Player of the match: Jayson McCarthy
Kills: Vicente Ignacio Parraguirre Villalobos, 18
Points: Vicente Ignacio Parraguirre Villalobos, 18.5
Blocks: Hugo Leger, 2.5
Digs: Vincent Thibault-Bernier, 12
Service aces: Three with one
Player of the match: Gabriel Araya Menares
CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE & RESULTS (All times MT)
Thursday, March 17
1:00 p.m. Quarter-final #1: Trinity Western 3, Waterloo 0
2:30 p.m. Quarter-final #2: McMaster 3, Laval 2
6:30 p.m. Quarter-final #3: Manitoba vs. Alberta
8:00 p.m. Quarter-final #4: UBC vs. UNB
Friday, March 18
1:00 p.m. Consolation #1: Waterloo vs. Laval
2:30 p.m. Consolation #2: Loser QF #3 vs. Loser QF #4 (TBD)
6:30 p.m. Semifinal #1: Winner QF #3 vs. Winner QF #4
8:00 p.m. Semifinal #2: Trinity Western vs. McMaster
Saturday, March 19
12:00 p.m. 5th place (TBD)
3:00 p.m. Bronze medal (TBD)
6:00 p.m. Championship final (TBD)