By Mike Koreen - The Kingston Whig-Standard - LINK to Story

KINGSTON, Ontario — It was a wonderful advertisement for Canadian university men's volleyball, a sequence that featured everything you could possibly want in sport.

Inside a packed Queen's Centre on Sunday, the Trinity Western Spartans and Laval Rouge et Or went punch for punch in a wildly entertaining fourth and final set. They were playing for a Canadian Interuniversity Sport volleyball crown, but it felt more like a heavyweight title fight.

In the end, it was Trinity Western inching past underdog Laval 30-28, securing a 3-1 victory and a second straight national title for the Langley, B.C. Christian university. Set scores were 19-25, 25-19, 25-17 and 30-28.

“What a great opponent, what a great match,” said Ben Josephson, the youthful coach of the powerful Spartans.

“That fourth set is some of the best volleyball I've ever been a part of. I'm just so proud of our guys and we owe all glory to God for that.”

You didn't have to be a big volleyball fan to enjoy the Sunday spectacle. The incredibly resilient Rouge et Or fought off four championship points in the fourth set.

The Queen's Golden Gaels, remember, recorded their breakthrough football triumph at the Vanier Cup in 2009 on the campus of Laval University. It sure seemed like the Laval volleyballers were going to do the same at Queen's three years later, threatening to end Canada West's 17-year (now 18 years) stranglehold on the national title.

The Spartans, however, were the top-ranked team in the tournament for a reason. Twice, they won points with Laval serving for the set.

Finally, the Spartans scored three points in a row to win it. The first two came on kills by the dynamic Steven Marshall. Fifth-year left side Marc Howatson capped the thriller with an ace.

The Spartans, who looked like a machine in sweeping the Dalhousie Tigers and Queen's to open the tournament, finally showed some cracks in the first set. The Rouge et Or, backed by a noisy contingent from Quebec, flew out of the starting gate, jumping out to a 6-1 lead and forcing the Spartans to call timeout. It didn't matter; Laval wasn't losing the opener.

“We just weren't in our game, we weren't ourselves,” said Spartans star Rudy Verhoeff, who led his team with 13 kills. “Anybody who was watching could tell we were just a little hesitant, a little nervous. Maybe all the pressure got to us. ... Eventually, we became ourselves again.”

The 6-foot-8 Daniel Jansen Van Doorn was a huge blocking force for the Spartans, helping contain Rouge et Or star Karl De Grandpre. He was named player of the match.

Marshall, down the stretch, was a one-man highlight reel. His diving-backward dig late in the fourth set was the top highlight of a match with many of them, leading to a Trinity Western point.

“He started off poorly and they exploited some things on him,” Josephson said of Marshall. “He re-set his brain and went back out — what a performance. He carried us in that fourth set. Character makes plays when times are toughest. That's what an epic story is made of.”

The third-seeded Rouge et Or had no reason to hang their heads. The Spartans lost all of two matches against Canadian university competition this year. The westerners were the clear favourites, but they got all they could handle from Laval.

“I'm very, very, very proud. I think this is a very shiny silver medal for us,” Rouge et Or coach Pascal Clement said.

Afterward, Clement made a passionate speech about volleyball. The sport, indeed, was the true winner of the weekend.

“I really hope the CIS will understand we are not one of the university sports, we proved we are one of the best CIS shows in Canada. We need as much credit as basketball and football. We need to get TV, we need to show how proud we are of volleyball and athletes. ... Everybody agrees (it's exciting) after the national championship but then they disappear and forget. But don't forget.

“We are one of major university sports in canada, no doubt.”

Last Updated: 2012-03-07
Author: Mark Janzen