Calgary, AL- The U Sports Women’s Volleyball National Championships have the makings to be a tournament for the ages. After their stunning 5 set comeback over the Ryerson Rams on the Saville Community Sports Centre court in Edmonton last year the UBC Thunderbirds were knocked out in the Canada West Quarterfinals by the Mount Royal Cougars. Not to be outdone the Ryerson Rams, after winning the title in 2018 and falling inches short last year were upset in their Quarterfinal matchup against the Guelph Gryphons. Meaning the last U Sports gold medal winner that will be in the 2020 National Championships is the Toronto Varsity Blues who won it all in 2016. Here is what you need to know about each of the Quarterfinal matchups before the tournament kicks off at 3:00pm/EST on Friday March 13th from the Jack Simpson Gymnasium in Calgary.
#1 Trinity Western Spartans vs #8 Calgary Dinos
With all due respect to the host Calgary Dinos, this matchup is perhaps the easiest one to predict. The Trinity Western Spartans rolled through Canada West in 2019-2020 posting a 22-2 record. They were led on the offensive end by All-Star Hilary Howe. The 4th year outside hitter finished 2nd in Kills per set with 3.95 and 3rd in Service Aces per set with 0.57 in all of Canada West. Overall the Spartans should not find their Quarterfinal matchup very difficult, including a shocking 1st game of the semi-finals loss to Thompson Rivers, the Spartans only dropped 7 sets altogether across their final 11 games.
For the Calgary Dinos 2019-2020 was a year to forget. A 9-15 record saw them barely squeak into the final spot in the Canada West playoffs which they won on a tiebreaker. There are some silver linings though to the Dinos rough season. They finished 3rd in Canada West in Blocks per Set showing they do have some defensive prowess to stand up to Trinity Western. The biggest thing the Dinos have going for them is experience. Six different 5th year players means this is a group that has had a lot of experience in difficult settings together. They will have to lean on that experience if they want a shot at staying with the Spartans.
#2 Toronto Varsity Blues vs #7 Brock Badgers
In a surprising seeding matchup, last week’s Quigley Cup Final becomes this weeks Quarterfinal as the Blues and Badgers square off again. After sweeping the Quigley Cup the advantage inherently goes to the Blues but it goes further than that. Toronto had a strong 2019-2020 finished 1st in the OUA East with a 17-2 record which continued into the playoffs where the Blues only dropped 1 set in 3 Games on the way to the Quigley Cup. A lot of how the Blues won can be credited to the 3 headed monster of Alina Dormann, Cailegh Cruickshank and Haley Goodwin. These 3 helped pace the Blues offensively in the playoffs with Dormann leading the OUA in kills per set with 4.20, Cruickshank leading in service aces per set at 0.70 and Goodwin delivering the helpers and leading with 9.50 assists per set. If these three all play to their potential the Blues likely should see the semi-finals of the National Championships.
The Brock Badgers will look to stop them though. For the Badgers they have entered brand new territory qualifying for their 1st National Championship in program history. On the season in the OUA the Badgers finished with a strong 14-5 record and carried that strong play into the playoffs, sweeping the York Lions and the Guelph Gryphons before falling to Toronto in the Quigley Cup Finals. Brock relies on a two headed offensive tag team in Laura Condotta and Emily Armstrong. Armstrong is the setup, leading the OUA in the regular season with 9.11 assists per set and Condotta is the finisher, finishing 2nd in kills per set at 3.78. For the Badgers to upset the Varsity Blues the way they couldn’t do during the Quigley Cup it will be on the backs of these two stars.
#3 Dalhousie Tigers vs #6 Montreal Carabins
The Dalhousie Tigers enter the National Championships in search of their first title since 1982 and the team that will go for it represent a pretty strong bid. From start to finish the Tigers ran roughshod across the entire AUS on the way to the championship. A 19-1 record including leading the AUS in Kills per set, Blocks per set, Digs per set, Hitting Percentage and Service Aces per set established the Tigers as easily the best team in Atlantic Canada. A lot of their strong play stems from their star Courtney Baker. The 5th year Kinesiology Student and three-time AUS MVP finished 2nd in Assists, 3rd in Service Aces, and 8th in Blocks in the AUS. If she continues her strong play into the National Championship it could spell good odds for the Tigers to end their 38 year drought.
The Montreal Carabins will be looking to stop them. Unlike the Tigers the Montreal Carabins do not have a national title drought as they have never been National Champions but they do have some experience winning championships provincially picking up the RSEQ Provincial Title to book their spot in the National Championships. The Carabins are led by Maude Babin who finished 2nd in RSEQ in Kills per set with 3.16 and defensively by Alexe Gagne who led RSEQ with 3.57 Digs per set. The Carabins will be in tough against a strong Dalhousie Squad but if they can play up to their potential they could get themselves one step closer to their first national title.
#4 Alberta Pandas vs #5 Mount Royal Cougars
With the Ryerson Rams not in the National Championships the Alberta Pandas have to feel like it will be their year right? In 2018 they got all the way to the title game only to fall and see the Ryerson Rams celebrate their first title and then last year in a rematch on the Pandas home court the Rams toppled Alberta to go back to the finals (and subsequently lose to the UBC Thunderbirds). Nonetheless Alberta takes the three and a half hour trip south down Alberta Highway 2 to Calgary feeling pretty good about their chances this time. They lost a hard fought Canada West Final to the Trinity Western Spartans but have to feel that if they play to what they are capable of they have a shot. What they are capable of rests on the shoulders of 4th year Outside Hitter Kory White. The Agriculture, Life & Environmental Sciences student led the Nation in Kills per set with 4.78 and in the process broke the Panda’s single season record for kills with 406. If the Panda’s want their shot at an 8th National Title and their first since 2007 they will need White to continue to stir the drink on offence.
Just like the Brock Badgers, the young Mount Royal Cougars program enters the National Championship ring for the very first time in 2020. The Cougars do so by way of winning the Canada West Bronze Medal over Thompson Rivers. The Cougars as an Athletic Program have seen major strides in 2020 and the Womens Volleyball is just another strong example. On the court, Middle Blocker Nyadholi Thokbuom led all of Canada West with a .386 hitting percentage, finished 4th in blocks per set at 1.14 and will be someone that the team will lean on heavily. The question for the Cougars will be for a young program can they deliver in the spotlight for the first time, the Cougars 3-0 sweep of Thompson Rivers should at least change the minds of some doubters, but the rest, the Cougars will just have to keep proving them wrong.
All games for the 2020 U Sports Women’s Volleyball National Championship will be available for streaming on usports.live
Cover Photo: U Sports Website