Wesmen triumph over Bisons
Women’s volleyball team earns River City bragging rights by defeating crosstown rivals in four sets
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It’s been a decade since the Winnipeg Wesmen and Manitoba Bisons women’s volleyball teams both finished a season with winning records.
Much to the delight of the local volleyball scene, that drought will end in 2023 as both sides are well above .500, which made Thursday night’s meeting between the crosstown rivals at the Duckworth Centre that much more intriguing.
The Wesmen successfully defended their home court by taking down the Herd in four sets (25-21, 25-17, 18-25, 25-17) to improve to 14-5 on the year. The U of W has now won five straight and 10 of their last 11.
With the loss, the Bisons drop to 12-7 and had their six-game winning streak snapped.
They meet again Saturday afternoon at 2:45 p.m. inside the U of M’s Investors Group Athletic Centre.
“I think it’s great for Manitoba in general. It’s always been the big dogs are in B.C. and Alberta, so for us to kind of put a name out there for both us and U of M is great,” said fifth-year Wesmen middle Taylor Kleysen.
“We have a solid amount of veterans on our team and for the U of M, they have a lot of really young girls that are coming up and playing, which is great for the province, Volleyball Manitoba, and the club teams.”
To make the night even sweeter for the team in red and white was the fact the downtown Winnipeg school was packed, with just under 900 fans in attendance.
“I’ve never seen the Duckworth so busy. There were people even standing around the track which was great,” said Kleysen, who chipped in on offence with five kills. “Obviously, the rivalry with everybody from Manitoba brings people in, but we were all saying how fun that was. And to see so many girls in the crowd that are young club players, to play in front of them was awesome.”
The Wesmen leaned on their fifth-year seniors as Emma Parker led the match with 16 kills and Ashleigh Laube was close behind with 14. They also came to play defensively with Parker recording 14 digs and Laube having 13. Laube is 15 kills away from having 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in her university career, which would make her the fourth player in conference history, and only the second Wesmen, to accomplish the feat.
Raya Surinx — arguably the best first-year player in Canada West — led Manitoba’s attack with 11 kills and registered 11 digs.
The Wesmen are tied with the UBC Thunderbirds (14-4) for the second most points in the 14-team conference. The U of W will travel to Vancouver next weekend to play a pair of important matches against the T-Birds.
“I think we’re finding lots of different ways to win and we’re not just relying on one or two or three players, we’re relying on everybody. Everyone’s chipping in at different times and if we have troubles attacking the ball, they do a really good job with all the other aspects of our game,” said Wesmen head coach Phil Hudson.
“The team is much deeper and we have kids coming off the bench playing well which makes a big difference. Winning breeds confidence and confidence breeds winning. It’s a good atmosphere to be in and we’re having a lot of fun.”
The Bisons left the Duckworth disappointed, but they can hang their hat on the fact they’ve already won more games this year than they have in the previous two seasons combined (10).
Surinx has the potential to be the face of the program for years to come, but she’s also surrounded by a strong core of second-year talent in attackers Andi Almonte and Ella Gray, middles Brenna Bedosky and Eve Catojo, and setter Katreena Bentley.
Surinx, a J.H. Bruns Collegiate product, is third in the conference in kills and second in service aces.
“She’s unbelievable, and literally the sweetest kid you’ll ever meet. She’s amazing and doing so much for us right now,” said third-year Bisons hitter Light Uchechukwu.
“She’s very consistent. I’ve never seen someone make that many of their spin serves.”
The Bisons sit in sixth place in the conference. They host the Fraser Valley Cascades (13-5) next weekend.
“We’re still quite young by contrast compared to Winnipeg, but I’m not thinking about two years down the road,” said U of M head coach Ken Bentley.
“I’m thinking about what’s in front of us and what’s in front of us is we’re still a really good team that’s proven we can play and beat anybody.”
Both teams have five regular-season games left before the best-of-three quarterfinals, featuring the top eight teams in Canada West, begin Feb. 24.
The men’s programs closed out the night with the Wesmen (7-12), who were on an eight-match losing streak, knocking off the Herd (7-12) in four sets (25-21, 25-19, 20-25, 25-13). Their rematch takes place Saturday at 1 p.m. at the IGAC.
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