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The Challenge rivalry even after Round 1

Bisons women winners, men losers in volleyball

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Back in the days when the cross-town competition flourished and one university would wear out the path to the other's athletic centre, the rivalry -- and even dislike -- was natural.

In the modern-era Canada West volleyball and basketball schedules, the heat isn't as hot between the Unviersity of Manitoba Bisons and University of Winnipeg Wesmen.

So it's a good thing the annual Duckworth Challenge remains.

The schools began the 22nd edition with volleyball Tuesday night at Investors Group Athletic Centre, each side taking a sweep.

That puts it all square heading for tonight's men's (8 p.m.) and women's (6 p.m.) basketball at the U of W's Duckworth Centre.

A split of games tonight will bring the tiebreaker (basically tonight's aggregate) into play.

"It's true it isn't what it used to be, but it's still very, very strong because these guys have grown up with each other," said Wesmen men's volleyball coach Larry McKay, whose squad prevailed 25-16, 25-23, 25-23 over the nationally fourth-ranked Bisons. "And we've played them in exhibition a little bit as well.

"So there still is that intensity to the rivalry, and maybe a little more because of the diminished schedule against them."

The home side, now 7-5, had a little better luck in the women's match Tuesday, methodically dismantling the 4-8 Wesmen 25-15, 25-13, 25-18 in their final outing before the holiday break.

"I think the biggest thing is that it gets more people out to watch us play, but I will say this, that we've had really good home crowds this year," said Bisons women's coach Ken Bentley. "The rivalry has dissipated a fair bit, only in that we don't play each other as often as we used to.

"We used to play each other 14 times a year. That's enough to make you hate anybody, right? In any sport, especially when one team's winning more than the other.

"It's just not that way anymore. So the strength of our league and the number of teams in our league (Canada West) has just dissipated that."

It's been seven or eight seasons since the schedule changed, but the competition carries on. The Bisons lead this challenge series, played since 1992, 11-5-and have won the last three.

McKay said the annual Duckworth event remains an important connection.

"For people who've been around a while, who know the Duckworth family and the (family's) significance between the two institutions, it has special meaning for those people," he said. "Dr. Duckworth (one-time president at U of W and chancellor at U of M) was a very significant person in the histories of both universities. It is kind of a circled-on-the-calendar yearly date for me.

"I don't think our young guys are aware of much of it."

If they weren't, their match against the Bisons certainly had some elements of a good rivalry, including some trash-talking and a couple of mildly contested officiating decisions.

The Wesmen moved to 6-6 while the Bisons, losers of three of their last four matches, dropped to 7-5.

"We're improving," McKay said. "We've been getting better at the game, better at the skills. They've had some success in the last three weeks, too, against excellent teams, Manitoba being one of them.

"Manitoba's an excellent team, one of the best in the country. They weren't on their game tonight and we were very fortunate to be able to score some points."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2012 D4

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