Hamilton, ON- Nearly every day after their championship loss, Mathias Elser thought about it. The Trinity Western Spartans third-year setter thought about his team’s defeat to the Alberta Golden Bears in the 2022 U SPORTS men’s volleyball finals.
It was his first championship match – a chance to win a national title, like numerous other Spartans had done before him. When he thought about it, he said he had some pretty big regrets about how he approached it and how he played.
“I was just praying for a chance to get back here,” he added. A year later, after the Spartans won their semi-finals over the host McMaster Marauders, he and his teammates got their chance. He knew what he had to do.
In the 300 plus days leading up to this year’s finals, the team was motivated by the loss, according to head coach Adam Schriemer. He saw how hard they took the defeat. He couldn’t recall a single day when they took a step back in training because of that motivation.
He couldn’t recall a single moment when they were complacent. “We think complacency is the opposite of success,” Schriemer added. In the meantime, they focused on working. Each player focused on doing their job. “Nothing more, nothing less,” Schriemer added.
They worked through adversity. They suffered another loss to Alberta – this time in the Canada West finals. They faced the second-ranked Marauders in front of a packed Burridge Gym, faced a 1-0 set deficit…and prevailed.
A gift. That’s what fourth-year outside hitter Brodie Hofer called the adversity. “Each time we had to face something difficult, it was just to make us stronger, make us tougher” he noted. “And that makes us harder to be beaten.”
The senior had won a national championship in his first season and was on the other side of it last year. He stood and watched Alberta receive their gold medals. He remembered the feeling it brought…and didn’t forget it.
Before this year’s Canada West finals, he watched last year’s championship game to see what happened and remember what it was like. “It was kind of an advantage for us to be able to look back and have this push to motivate,” he added. “So, you know, the complacency never steps in. It just keeps you focused.”
After beating the Marauders, the Spartans were facing the Sherbrooke Vert et Or – who knocked off the Golden Bears in straight sets in the other semi-finals.
Game time was approaching. It was a quick turnaround from their semi-final game the night before.
Elser was trying to take a nap before the game. However, his mind was racing with nerves and anxiety. Then he thought: “Why would I be nervous to win a national championship?”
Then he thought: it must mean I’m thinking about losing. Elser instead focused on not being afraid to lose. “The opportunity is bigger than the loss,” he said.
He shared his thoughts with his teammates and coaches during their game-plan meeting. We have an opportunity to win a championship, he told them. The opportunity to do so in this atmosphere, in front of friends and family, playing the sport we love during a unique time in our lives.
“This is such a rare experience,” Schriemer recalls him saying. “We’ve got to make sure we enjoy this opportunity because of how cool it is.”
The head coach saw the team build off Elser’s words and embody what he was saying. Against Sherbrooke, they got out to an early lead – taking the first set 25-16 before winning the next two.
Schriemer saw their serving strength from the starters and several players coming off the bench. Trinity Western had 12 serving aces to Sherbrooke’s zero. They had a .354 hitting percentage to Sherbrooke’s .177. One of their best performances of the year, Schriemer called it.
Soon, they had a two-set lead and were on the cusp of winning the third – the crowd rising to its feet in anticipation of the championship moment. As Elser set up Hofer for the final point, their teammates poured onto the court in celebration.
Hofer doesn’t remember what he was thinking in the moment. He remembers dropping down to his knees before getting up and looking for teammate Jesse Elser – the two longest tenured Spartans together once more.
Schriemer doesn’t remember what he was thinking either. He just found himself hugging the coaches. Mathias Elser was planning on doing a cool celebration but instead just ran onto the court. Surreal, he called it.
“It still doesn’t feel really real until you let your mind relax and actually take in what we accomplished,” he said.
When the time comes to soak in the accomplishment, perhaps things will sink in. The team with the first-year co-interim head coaches – Schriemer and Ben Ball – are national champions once again.
After the semi-finals, Schriemer talked about how they’re standing on the shoulders on giants – of all the great teams and players that came before them. Yet, it was this year’s team that earned the program’s seventh straight trip to finals and seventh national championship.
Schriemer becomes a national champion as both a coach and player – he won twice with the Spartans in 2016 and 2017. “It’s so sweet,” he said. “These guys are so deserving.”
Elser celebrated the championship with his brothers and teammates Jesse and Aaron. He was also named tournament MVP. “It’s pretty cool to be honoured like that,” he said. “As a setter, your role really revolves around what you can do for your teammates and what they can do for you…I’m really not taking much credit for this one because I have these guys next to me.”
Hofer bookends his career with another national crown. Back in 2019, he was one of the younger players who was carried along by the veterans, just trying to do his job. In 2023, he’s one of veterans imparting his wisdom upon his younger teammates – telling them to just do their jobs. Telling them to have fun and enjoy the moments. He knows how quickly it goes by.
Now, they’re celebrating those championship moments. Almost a year following their defeat to Alberta and everything that came with it, this year’s Trinity Western Spartans will surely now have new thoughts, new emotions and new memories in its place.
Featured Image: Michael P. Hall/U SPORTS Website