Bisons denied bronze
Lose thriller to UBC, fall to Dalhousie
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The Manitoba Bisons — who could rightly be called the cardiac kids of the Canada West women’s volleyball — nearly served up another heart-stopping victory Sunday night.
Sixth-seeded Manitoba took a 2-1 set lead midway through the bronze-medal match of the U Sports national championship at War Memorial Gym in Vancouver but faltered late, dropping a 16-25, 25-21, 11-25, 25-21, 18-16 decision to the fifth-seeded Dalhousie Tigers.
“We had a team meeting (afterwards) and (setter) Katreena (Bentley) said it perfectly,” said third-year left side Light Uchechukwu by phone. “She said, ‘There wasn’t a team that she would rather win with but at the same time, there isn’t a team that she would rather lose with.’ We all fought and I love every single one of those girls because they’re amazing.”
The Bisons were no strangers to hard-fought marathon battles, beating the Winnipeg Wesmen in a conference bronze-medal match in five sets on March 10 to qualify for nationals and following that up by defeating the No. 3 Mount Royal Cougars in a five-set quarter-final marathon at nationals Friday.
Left side Raya Surinx had 15 kills and seven digs for Manitoba Sunday while teammate Ella Gray added 13 kills and 13 digs. Andi Almonte chipped in with 12 kills and 22 digs and Julia Arnold had a game-high 30 digs.
Katreena Bentley, who had 55 assists, was serving for the match with Manitoba leading 14-13 in the fifth set but it was not to be.
“I mean, the one true constant of our team has just been, man, just the fight and tenacity,” said head coach Ken Bentley. “I just love the qualities of this team. And obviously, we wanted it badly for them to win just to feel, ‘Hey, we won our last match of the year,’ so that (loss is) gonna stay (with us) for a bit, but I can’t fault the effort or the try or any of those things.”
The Bisons appeared to be taking control of the match when they won the third set in dominant fashion, 25-11.
“I think at every moment, we knew if they were going to come back and that they were ready to fight,” said Uchechukwu, who entered the match in the fourth set and contributed six kills. “There was no comfort at all because we knew they’re a good team — they were in the third-place match for a reason. So we knew it was gonna be hard.”
Manitoba, which hadn’t been to the national championship since winning it all in 2014, showed great promise with a young lineup this season.
“I would look at it with a broader scope in terms of the last month of our season and just the progress we’ve made as a team and the battles that we had and the battles we won,” said head coach Ken Bentley. “To come here and beat MRU in five to start with as the sixth seed — to beat a team that kind of owned us all year long — that was just a great match. That was gritty and man, we stayed in it.”
Dalhousie left side Lucy Glen-Carter had a big night, contributing 20 kills and 13 digs. Talia Kydykhan added 17 kills and seven digs while setter Brett Boldon had 43 assists.
The Bisons are eligible to return their entire roster in 2023-24 including middle Simone Crevier and right wide Keziah Hoeppner, who were both lost to season-ending injuries.
“I think we’re just going to keep getting better and better,” said Uchechukwu. “Everyone has such high potential and is going to be great. I’m very excited to see what everyone could do next year.”
On Saturday, the Bisons were denied a trip to the final when they lost 20-25, 25-20, 25-16, 25-14 to the UBC Thunderbirds in a tense semifinal showdown.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” said Ken Bentley. “We’re going to return the vast majority of our group and and certainly our two injured kids will be back and I’m excited about our roster and our team for next year.”
Later Sunday, the seventh-seeded T-Birds won their 13th national title by beating the No. 1-ranked Trinity Western Spartans 25-23, 22-25, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12.