What do you get when you mix together a couple heapings of Brandon and Winnipeg talent, a sprinkling of rural Manitoba athletics, and a pinch of Western Canadian exceptionalism, all under the careful observation of chef – head coach – Grant Wilson?
You get the 2018-19 Canada West men’s volleyball champions.
The Bobcats wrapped up a memorable season on Friday night on their home court, winning their second Canada West championship in a five-set thriller over the Trinity Western Spartans, ending Trinity’s three-year reign in the process.
“It was pretty satisfying,” said Wilson, a couple of days removed from the championship moment. “To come up so big in a game with such huge implications in a sold-out gym was very rewarding for our program.
“Compared to the first win, it was really new territory from when we won our first (championship),” he added. “It was a real reversal of roles. We were the under dogs the first time, but this time there was more weight on our shoulders as the number one team. They’re both pretty memorable victories.”
Brandon University did not buckle under pressure, even against the three-time defending champions. The Bobcats won three sets to two in a back-and-forth affair, though they never trailed in terms of sets won, winning 25-23, 18-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-12 in front of 1800 fans.
The final set was tied 11-11 until Brandon scored four of the final points to win their first Canada West championship since the 2012-13 season.
Brandon native Seth Friesen provided offense for the Bobcats, leading them in kills with 16. Freshman and Switzerland-born left side Robin Baghdady – all six-foot-nine-inches of him – led his team in blocks with six. Winnipeg product Brady Nault kept the most rallies going by coming up with 11 digs, while Sherwood Park, Alta.’s Reece Dixon led the team in service aces with two.
The wide-ranging home addresses for some of the leaders on this year’s Bobcats team is a perfect example of how Wilson was able to put together a team with a solid mix of local, provincial and import talent.
“Recruiting is one of the most important parts of our job,” the Brandon coach said. “To convince student athletes to come here and take their academics in our program – we have some limitations compared to some of the bigger schools, and we’re here in the Prairies where it’s minus-30 (degrees Celsius) for a good chunk of the year.
“So to get kids to come from afar is a challenge, and it means a lot of time online watching video, talking to coaches, and trying to find the right fit for our team and our program. We’ve been pretty fortunate to land student athletes who are not just succeeding on the volleyball court, but in the classroom and the community, and we’re very proud of that fact.”
In team stats, Brandon held a slight advantage on hitting percentage, edging Trinity Western .282 to .278. Brandon out-blocked their visitors 13 to 8.5, while Trinity Western had 45 digs to 37 for Brandon. Service aces were hard to come by, with Brandon hitting five, and Trinity Western hitting eight.
Both Brandon and Trinity Western now advance to the U Sport Men’s Volleyball National Championship, which gets under way this Friday at Laval University in Quebec City, Que. They’ll be joined by Canada West teams from the University of Alberta and Mount Royal who earned berths as wildcards. Rounding out the lineup will be the host Laval team, the University of Montreal, and two teams from Ontario – Queens and McMasters Universities.
The Bobcats enter the National Championship as the No. 1 seed. They will play No. 8-seeded University of Montreal on Friday at 1 p.m. Should they collect three wins this weekend, the Bobcats can add national champions to their resume for the 2018-19 season.