By Aaron Martin – Special to VarsityLetters.ca
USPORTS GOLD MEDAL GAME – UBC 3, ALBERTA 1
TORONTO, ON – A role player in the team’s national title run back in her freshman season in 2013, fifth-year outside hitter Danielle Brisebois took center stage in the national finals on Sunday afternoon, leading the no. 3-ranked UBC Thunderbirds women’s volleyball team to the 2017 U Sports Women’s Volleyball National Championship over the no. 1-ranked Alberta Pandas by a set score of 3-1 (25-20, 25-20, 13-25, 25-19).
“I can’t really compare the two,” said Brisebois of her two championship runs. “That  team was so dominant, we were expected to win all the way through, and this one still feels surreal. There’s no words to really describe it. With this team, we weren’t really counted in that top-contender group, or considered the favourite. We just went out and earned it.”
Named to the U Sports Championship All-Star team and the tourney MVP, Brisebois racked up 20 kills with just four errors, adding eight digs and four blocks against the Pandas. Not alone in her superlative showing, Brisebois was joined on the All-Tournament team by two teammates, middle Maggie Li (11 kills, four aces, five blocks) and setter Alessandra Gentile (37 assists, 16 digs, two kills).
“They deserve the praise, definitely,” said UBC head coach Doug Reimer of his three All-Stars. “All three were terrific. But I definitely think this win was one we got as a team. Without every person – [libero] Sam Patko was terrific, [OH] Juliana Kaufmanis was on defense and on receive – without every person, none of this works. We don’t get by the semis, and we certainly don’t win today unless everyone contributes. We got that today.”
The ‘Birds took the Pandas to task in the first two frames, with their impressive aggression both on the attack and while defending proving a challenge for the Albertans. UBC racked up a combined 24 kills over those two sets, including 10 from Brisebois. The ‘Birds also made just 19 total errors to 24 for Alberta, while dropping five aces to the Pandas’ two.
“We were composed, resilient when we had to be, and everybody did a really good job of taking care of their assignments,” said Reimer.
After getting thumped in the third frame by a Meg Casault and Kacey Otto-led Alberta side that suddenly looked like the top-seeded team in the country, the ‘Birds had to refocus heading into the final frame.
They did that and more. Unabated by the Pandas’ sudden momentum, the ‘Birds jumped out to an 11-5 lead in the fourth set, buoyed by a dominant service run from Li. Though the Pandas clawed back to equalize at 13-13, the duo of Brisebois and Li combined for the T-Birds’ next five kills as they retook a 20-15 lead.
That was too much for the Pandas to recover from as Brisebois drilled another two kills late. Coupled with a Gentile ace and a couple of Pandas errors, and the ‘Birds walked away victorious.
“What amazes me most is the amount that we’ve grown in the past couple of years,” said Reimer. “Two years ago, we weren’t at all ready to take on the very best and have a chance to win. Last year, we were closer, and now we’re all of a sudden on top. Just terrific growth from these girls, as individual athletes and as a team.”
USPORTS BRONZE MEDAL GAME – TWU 3 MONTREAL 2
Looking to secure a medal at the U Sports national championships for the third year running, the Trinity Western Spartans women’s volleyball team accomplished the feat in dramatic fashion on Sunday afternoon, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to upend the Montreal Carabins 3-2 in the Bronze Medal Game.
Final set scores were 23-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-21, and 15-11.
“I’m really impressed by the character shown by our girls,” said Trinity Western head coach Ryan Hofer. “Really proud of the effort, just the continued effort – putting in the time, putting in the work, and I have an amazing coaching staff around me that make me and these girls better every day. We’re all proud of these accomplishments, and what we’re doing to create a culture that will make these girls not only high-end athletes, but well-rounded people.”
Falling 25-23 in each of the first two sets, the Spartans flipped the switched entirely coming out for the third frame. It’s clear simply by looking at the numbers – over the first two sets, TWU posted just 24 kills on 70 swings, committing 14 errors that proved the difference in those small-margin frames. Over the next two frames, behind the dominance of fifth-year outside hitters Sophie Carpentier and Elly Wendel, the Spartans racked up 33 kills with just four errors on 59 total attacking swings.
“Honestly, when it comes to nationals, opponents aren’t familiar with each other,” Hofer when asked about his team’s sharp turnaround. “In Canada West, we get to play teams, and get all the video we want. Here, we’re lucky to get a couple of matches from each team. So, we have to make changes on the fly – small blocking adjustments, we had to make some defensive adjustments, and just find was of scoring.”
That remarkable turn of form into the tense final stanza. Knotted up 9-9, a couple of Carabin errors and an ace from Brie O’Reilly put the Spartans in the driver’s seat. Carpentier closed out a phenomenal performance with two kills in the game’s final stages, including a medal-sealing bullet to complete the remarkable comeback.
Carpentier closed out her U Sports career with 19 kills and seven aces to lead her side, while Wendel notched 15 kills, 10 digs, and five blocks. On the Carabins side, it was Marie-Alex Belanger at the helm, with the fifth-year senior picking up 23 kills, 10 digs, and three aces in the loss.
Carpentier and Belanger were both among seven players named to the U Sports Championship All-Star Team, alongside Brisebois, Li, and Gentile, as well as Alberta’s Casault and Otto.
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