SASKATOON – If championship teams are forged through adversity then the 2015-16 edition of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies men’s volleyball squad earned its stripes in the Canada West quarter-finals. The Dogs were within a set of sweeping the University of Winnipeg Wesmen out of the playoffs before the Wesmen roared back to even the best-of-three series.
Instead of hanging their heads, the Huskies responded the next day with a straight sets victory that propelled them into the Final Four for the first time in ten years.
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“(The Wesmen) really put their foot on the gas (in Game 2) and we didn’t respond real well, and that could have been quite devastating,” head coach Brian Gavlas said.
“So I really applaud our guys and our leadership, and their ability to bounce back the next day.”
Fourth-year middle blocker Tyler Epp says the message Gavlas had for his team following the loss was a big reason they were able to rebound so quickly.
“Brian had some great things to say, talking about whether we missed an opportunity to close it out on Saturday or whether we had a (new) opportunity then the next day to win it,” Epp said. “I think we did a good job of shifting our focus that way and not being too down, not too concerned with the loss.”
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Unlike the quarter-finals, the Canada West Final Four is a single elimination affair. That means the Huskies are just two wins away from claiming their 11th conference title, and first since 2006. It also means there’s very little room for error, but the Huskies are ready for the pressure.
“You kinda have to bring your best right when it counts, right away. There’s no feeling out process. You can’t afford to take any time that way. But it’s exciting, too,” Epp said. “It’s a good chance to go out and play well right off the bat and hopefully make it through to the final.”
The Huskies face the Manitoba Bisons in their semifinal match Friday afternoon. A win will not only put Saskatchewan into the final, it will also ensure them of a spot in the national championship tournament.
“We’ve been playing our best volleyball these past couple weeks for sure. I think we all believe that we can beat anybody that steps on the court with us as long as we’re playing to our full capabilities,” said setter CJ Gavlas, who was named the Canada West Rookie of the Year earlier this week.
Brian Gavlas added, “Going into Winnipeg and winning the best of three has to be a confidence boost for our guys and I think we are playing some of our best volleyball right now, so we have to feel good about our chances this weekend.”
If recent history is any indication, one thing is certain: there’s still plenty of fight in these Dogs.