No Nerves For Men's Volleyball As The Defending Champs Enter Final Fours
The Blazers are now 48 hours away from taking the first step in a successful title defense of the Manitoba Colleges Athetic Conference Men's Volleyball trophy they won exactly one year ago. But entering matches of this magnitude of importance with the a target on their backs, is nothing new for the team. 2019 will be the second year in a row where CMU expects to win and after solidifying the top-seed this season in mid-January with a nearly perfect record of 15-1, no one on the team is going to be losing sleep this week as they prepare for the 2019 MCAC Final Fours.
"We know that if we play the way we are capable of playing, and have been playing all season, we will be fine," said third-year Blazer Mackenzie Hildebrand, who was recognized for his outstanding play in the 2018 MCAC Championships with the weekend's Most Valuable Player honours. "I don;t think anyone on the team is very nervous about the weekend, we are much more focussed on ourselves and being our best than about the other teams we have to play."
In Saturday's semifinal, CMU will take the court against the #4 ranked Assiniboine Cougars. Despite having two of the conference's best players in Will Hatherley and Paycen Warkentin, though the Blazers aren't looking past their opponents, they are more than confident that they can pass this first-round hurdle without a hiccup.
"ACC has two solid players that we are all aware of and we will be focussing on stopping them, but we've had no real problems with them this season in any of our four matches and we expect that to continue and hope to make that a short match on Saturday night," said CMU fourth-year John Neickarz who was recognized as Conference Championships MVP in CMU's first MCAC Championship win in 2017. The Blazers defeated ACC in all four regular season meetings by scores of 3-0 in all four matches.
In Saturday's other semifinal, the host Pilots, who are ranked third based on their regular season record of 8-8, tangle with the only team who have taken a match off CMU, the #2 USB Rouges.
"I don't know who we'd rather play," said Nieckarz, "statistically-speaking, we have beat Providence in every match we've played them in this season but they have a real energy on home court that makes them hard to beat. USB has had flashes where they are very dangerous and has some really physical and dynamic players. They are good defenders too."
Both teams in the 3:00pm men's semifinal have players who will have added pressure to advance to Sunday Final. For the Pilots, fifth-year Matt Friesen has been a prolific attacker for the past two seasons in the MCAC after transferring from Ontario to complete his college career in his home province. Along with veteran Pilots middle Brett Foley, emotions could propel Providence to perform on a very elite level.
For Les Rouges, Nico Marcon-Lajuenesse has been the face of USB Men's Volleyball for half a decade. His leadership and experience could pay dividends for the 11-5 team especially in the hostile confines of the Jubilee Gymnasium in Otterburne. Tristen Therrien is also expected to leave the USB program at the end of the 2018-19 season and sits second in the conference and first on Les Rouges in kills.
After making a successful first step past the Cougars in Saturday, it is clear that the Blazers will focus their attention back on themselves when they step on the court against either opponent on Sunday afternoon. "It is about us and each other," said Hildebrand. "Coach Dulder has been giving us Tom Brady speeches all week and really talking about being our best. We are a very good team and we simply have to play like the team we are, when it matters, and we feel very good about our chances."