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Dalhousie wins AUS Championship

Brad Parker / The Brunswickan

Brad Parker / The Brunswickan

There haven’t been many teams more consistent than the Dalhousie Tigers men’s volleyball squad this season.

Finishing the Atlantic University Sport regular season with a 16-1 record, the Tigers carried that strong play into the playoffs. Now they’ll get a chance to battle for a national championship after picking up their second straight conference title on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over the UNB Varsity Reds.

“We’ve been a pretty consistent group this year and I’ve been happy with how our guys responded to playing with the lead, playing from behind, playing in close sets … they’ve really had a lot of composure and are a very patient group,” said Tigers head coach Dan Ota while watching his team celebrate on the Richard J. Currie Center court.

The Tigers, who have won all but three AUS championships since 1980, won this year’s best-of-three AUS championship series 2-0 over the Varsity Reds. Although it was a sweep, UNB gave Dalhousie a good run in a couple sets, but ultimately fell short.

In game two of the series on Saturday, a strong blocking and offensive performance led the V-Reds to a 25-15 win in the first set. UNB jumped out to an early 5-0 lead and continued to control throughout, leading by as much as nine or 10 points at times. An attack error by Dalhousie’s Bryan Duquette completed the opening set victory for the Reds.

The intensity of the UNB-Dalhousie rivalry started to show in the second set as an official had to get between the two teams following some chirping at the net. Late in the set, with the Tigers leading 24-20, the V-Reds stormed back to tie things at 24-24. But a kill by Alex Dempsey and an attack error by Tristen Burridge earned the visiting squad a 26-24 win.

The second set win by the Tigers proved to be pivotal.

“The biggest thing was just getting to our game. We we’re making a lot of mistakes in that first set,” said Ota. “UNB came out and they were blocking very, very well. We weren’t hitting the kind of angles that we’re used to hitting.

“Second set, I think it went much closer to what we were hoping for but we really let them back in that second set. Had they won that, it could have been a very different kind of outcome today. I credit our guys for holding it together at the end and pulling that tight set out.”

The Tigers cruised to a 25-12 win in the third set, putting them in position to win the match and the AUS title in the fourth set. In that fourth set, Dalhousie was in command throughout and won 25-13, earning them the match victory.

Like his Dalhousie counterpart, UNB head coach Dan McMorran also spoke of consistency, citing it as one of his team’s problems over the past several weeks.

“We’ve been trying all second half to have consistent performances throughout,” said McMorran. “I give a little bit of credit to Dalhousie with a bit of a turnaround. I thought Dalhousie stayed the course. They had a bad set — I think we forced the issue a little bit there — and what happened with us is our consistency, which has been lacking over the last two months, kind of reared its ugly head.”

The Reds finished the regular season with an 8-9 record. This was the sixth meeting of the season between UNB and Dalhousie and the Tigers won each by scores of 3-1, 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, 3-0 and 3-1.

“We’ve beaten some of the best teams in the country this year but that’s when our wave is riding fairly high. We’ve kind of had that surfer’s mentality this year. We’ve played extremely high and we’ve played some low.”

Dalhousie will now head to Saskatoon where they will represent the AUS at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport Men’s Volleyball Championship Feb. 26-28.

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