The University of Manitoba’s volleyball squads were in balmy Abbotsford, B.C. this past weekend facing off against the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) Cascades. The men’s team played its first two games of the season, while the women’s team entered this past weekend’s matches coming off two convincing victories against the University of Regina Cougars.
Going into the 2023-24 CanWest volleyball season, in the annual “coaches poll,” the Bisons ranked ninth out of 13, two spots ahead of the Cascades. In Friday’s match, the herd certainly played like the superior team.
The Bisons got off to a blazing start and never looked back, taking the first set 25-23 as team captain Spencer Grahame found a slot through the UFV block for the set-winning kill.
The second set was a tight affair — at one point, knotted at 18 apiece — until Rosenort, Man. product Jonah Dueck went on a sizzling serving run for a remarkable three aces in a row. Dueck made use of his beautiful cross-court float serve, which whizzed a couple of inches over the net, dipping and diving all the way.
Thanks to Dueck’s serving heroics, the herd took the second set 25-20.
In the third, UFV looked as if it was going to mount a comeback. Led by Jonas Van Huizen, who accumulated an impressive 18 kills in the match, the Cascades were up by as many as five points.
But the herd kept chipping away, keeping it close.
With the Bisons up 23-22, Dueck stepped up to the service line again. This time it was not his serve that befuddled UFV players, for they made two critical attacking errors of their own and were twice thwarted by the Bison block, handing the men’s team its first win of the season.
Going for the weekend sweep in the second match on Saturday, the herd lost a very evenly played first set 27-25.
Even is exactly what the match was, as it went all the way to a decisive fifth set, each side trading sets to get there.
Ultimately, in the fifth set, the herd pulled away from a tired-looking Cascades team thanks to some powerful serving and consistent, error-free volleyball.
With the win, the Bisons improved to 2-0 on the season.
Sammy Ludwig was also outstanding for the herd, contributing much to the second victory of the season by amassing 48 assists and 10 digs.
This past weekend’s matchup against the UFV Cascades may very well have been a CanWest gold-medal match preview — at least, CanWest coaches seem to think so. The Cascades and Bisons were ranked first and second respectively in the women’s volleyball CanWest “coaches poll.”
Unlike the men’s first match, the women’s team did not pick up the victory, although one could still see why the Bisons’ squad is so highly regarded.
The herd dropped the match 3-1, winning only the first set 26-24 courtesy of a fabulous Light Uchechukwu block.
The Bisons did get as close as 17-18 in the fourth before UFV pulled away and took it 25-20.
Despite the loss, Raya Surinx was excellent once again, hammering home 17 kills and adding 10 digs.
Arguably, the best Bison on Friday night was Eve Catojo — a middle blocker who hit .600 and had a very respectable four digs.
Seeking to avenge its first loss of the season, the herd seemed poised to knock off the Cascades in Saturday’s rematch.
Nevertheless, the game did not go as planned. UFV dominated the entire match against an uninspired Bisons team, winning easily, three sets to zero.
One bright spot for the herd, however, was local B.C. native Ella Gray who hit .267, had five kills and made eight digs.
Moreover, after another 13-kill effort, Surinx currently leads CanWest in kills with 53 and kills per set with 4.08.
After being swept by the Cascades, the Bisons dropped to 2-2 on the season and to seventh in the CanWest standings.
Both the women’s and men’s teams will travel a couple of hours west next weekend to play a two-game series against the Brandon University Bobcats.