Home court was much more than an advantage. Don Dulder and the CMU Men's Volleyball team rose to the occasion on Sunday afternoon, fighting back from a 0-2 deficit in the 2020 MCAC Championship Final to defeat the top-ranked Providence Pilots 3-2 in front of a standing-room-only crowd in the Loewen Athletic Centre. As Matt Pagé and Makoy Penner closed out the match with a championship winning stuff block to take the fifth set 17-15, it was a moment of pure emotion at the realization of what had taken place.
The Blazers' prospects of winning gold was looking bleak as the teams changed benches and sides of the court at the midway point of the tiebreaking set, Providence leading 8-5. When the lead grew to 9-5, a CMU timeout sparked the Blazers' defensively. On the ensuing rally, libero Levi Klassen dove to his right to keep the point alive after Cam Gayleard's attack was blocked by the Pilots. As the ball transitioned from pass to set, Pagé locked in on the Providence power-hitter and timed a perfect block, closing the gap to 9-6. Then, CMU would force a Pilots timeout at 9-7 after Gayleard drew the momentum of the backrow towards the net, and cleverly pushed his attack over the on-rushing defenders to score just inside the service line. Gayleard would come up big down the stretch for this team, finishing the match with 12 kills.
Out of the stoppage, the Pilots would score twice to restore a four-point cushion after back to back kills from Thomas Copland and Will Ramsey, inching ever closer to their target of 15 points, with leads of 11-7 and then 12-8.
Cue the CMU run. After a Providence serving error gave the Blazers the sideout they needed, CMU capitalized with a 5- and took their first lead of the set 13-12 when Matt Sawatzky's block found the backcourt his match-high 9th block of the match. Tied at 14, Sawatzky would score would swing for his 9th kill to bring up the first attempt at championship-point for CMU, only to have the match prolonged when Providence's Jonas Friesen scored off a block for the sideout.
The final two points were all Pagé. The second-year right side pounded his 8th kill, restoring the one-point lead and bringing Sawatzky to the service line with another shot at the match. The Pilots went to Friesen again, swinging into a was a Pagé block, then a dig and straight back to the Pilot's left side to swing again. Four hands were all that Friesen could see. Pagé and a closing Makoy Penner elevated in unison, blocking the attack straight to the floor, for the point, the set and the match, 14-25, 26-28, 25-17, 25-20, 17-15.
There was never a loss of belief in the Blazers, despite going down 0-2 after a heart-breaking 26-28 second set defeat. "After that (second set) loss, we had our team huddle and I looked at them and said, 'it's going to be a crazy story boys," Carter Hofer told an MCAC reporter after the match when asked about the Blazers' comeback efforts. The third-year CMU co-captain led his team with 13 kills and went on to be selected as the Championship Most Valuable Player. "It felt really good to beat a rival and to do it in the fashion that we did," added Hofer. "It was a great way to have our last game as a team."
The Championship win was CMU's third in four seasons and first since gaining acceptance into the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association last summer. 2019-20 marked the first of two years of the MCAC's probationary status in the CCAA. Beginning in 2021-22, the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference Champions will move on to represent the MCAC at the CCAA National Championships. The 2020 CCAA Men's Volleyball Nationals are scheduled to take place March 11-14 in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
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