Stakes high in Bisons-Wesmen showdown

Women’s volleyball teams playing for spot in national championship


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The Winnipeg and Manitoba men’s basketball teams ratcheted up the heat in the crosstown university rivalry on Feb. 25 with a memorable Canada West playoff showdown, won 73-70 by the underdog Wesmen.

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The Winnipeg and Manitoba men’s basketball teams ratcheted up the heat in the crosstown university rivalry on Feb. 25 with a memorable Canada West playoff showdown, won 73-70 by the underdog Wesmen.

Now, it’s the turn of the women’s volleyball teams.

On Friday, the Wesmen, ranked seventh in the country, host the eighth-ranked Bisons in a third-place Canada West playoff that will determine the final entry for the U Sports national championship, slated for Vancouver March 17-19.

It’s a 7 p.m. start at the Duckworth Centre at U of W.

It marks the first head-to-head post-season meeting between the city rivals since 2011-12 when the Wesmen beat the Bisons in successive matches (3-2 and 3-0) to advance to the conference semifinals.

“We’re all a little bit nervous but not because it’s Winnipeg but more because it’s our one opportunity to get to nationals,” said Bisons second-year middle Eve Catojo on Wednesday.

“We have a really deep philosophy on our team that… it doesn’t matter who it is and who the actual people or the team is on the other side of the net, it’s just a number and rotation and tendencies. That’s kind of our mindset going into this.”

Catojo admitted the cold-blooded approach has its limits.

“It’s a challenge mentally to keep that philosophy and keep that mindset, especially when we know it’s like a crosstown rivalry and it’s all blown up on social media and there’s gonna be a huge crowd and a lot of heckling probably,” she said, with a smile.

Manitoba libero Julia Arnold relishes the match-up, which has added sizzle with the knowledge that her brother, Tristan Arnold, is a setter for the U of W men’s team.

“We do like to poke fun at each other but in terms of just both of our teams, there is a history of a rivalry and, of course, that contributes a little bit to the match-up,” she said. “Especially because there’ll be lots of people there and it’s pretty divided, but I think we just try to play like any other game.”

The stakes are high. The Bisons will attempt to return to the nationals for the first time since 2013-14, the year they won it all.

Winnipeg’s nationals drought has been longer, not having been to the big dance since 2002-03.

Last week, Manitoba was sent packing in straight games from the semifinals by the Mount Royal Cougars, while Winnipeg was dispatched by the top-seeded Trinity Western Spartans. Mount Royal and Trinity Western earned spots in the national tournament.

On Thursday, Bisons left side Raya Surinx was honoured as the conference’s rookie of the year.

“I’m proud of the group and what they’ve done so far,” said Manitoba head coach Ken Bentley. “I thought our Mount Royal weekend was tough but the second night I thought we played better than we did the first night and had a chance to win any one of those sets. But (the Cougars are) a veteran team and they’ve been around the block for a while. They’re a real good team.”

Wesmen head coach Phil Hudson is expecting a return to form from his squad.

“The first night (against Trinity Western) I thought we competed quite well for a majority of every set, we just couldn’t finish things off,” said Hudson, who was named Canada West coach of the year Thursday after leading the Wesmen to a 18-6 conference mark.

“And the second night, we just didn’t compete as well and everybody was fairly disappointed with the performance. Hopefully, we’ll get back to our style of play.”

Winnipeg and Manitoba split their two-game regular-season series in February. Hudson didn’t put much importance to Friday’s home-court advantage.

“Manitoba’s played here quite a bit and they have no problem (playing here),” said Hudson. “I think it helps us a little bit with serving but basically it’s not whose gym it’s being played in, it’s how it’s being played on the court and the process and whether the kids execute as best they can.”

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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