CAMROSE — Tim Finnigan has never looked so uncomfortable.
The Red Deer College Kings all-Canadian power looked as if he was having his toe-nails extracted one-by-one with each gold medal that was put around a University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings neck.
Finnigan and the rest of the Kings were in the unfamiliar position of watching another team celebrate the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference men’s volleyball championship after falling 3-2 (24-26, 19-25, 25-20, 25-22, 15-13) to the hosts on Saturday.
The one bright side is for Finnigan is his career is not over yet, RDC still advanced to the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association Championships on a wild card berth.
“It was annoying, I thought we deserved it, I thought we were the better team,” said the fifth year power. “But they played good, they played strong, their crowd was strong for them. I was just irritated and annoyed, I don’t like to be stuck there to watch someone else take my gold medal and my banner.”
For the Vikings, the history is not lost on them. This is just their fifth season in the ACAC and they did not just beat the defending national champions — who have 11 CCAA titles to their name — they stopped the Kings from winning their third straight provincial banner and 17th overall.
This was a major learning experience for the Vikings and they know they will have to play catch up once again in two weeks in Charlottetown, P.E.I., March 11-14.
“This whole year has been a learning process, but it’s been one of those years where you learn as you go,” said Vikings head coach Stephen Leggitt. “They’ve had some big wins and they had a couple of losses where you learn from that … It was fun. For either team to come in tonight and win 3-0 would have been a shame. To fight like that? I know everybody in this province looks up to (the Kings), the history there, you just respect them. I like that team.”
The ACAC gold medal game was a missed opportunity for the Kings, who were coming off perhaps their best match of the season, a 3-0 (25-22, 25-16, 25-12) win over the NAIT Ooks in the semifinal on Friday. But lapses in concentration in the second and fourth sets cost them.
After eeking out a back-and-forth opening set win, RDC lost their focus in the second set, falling behind 6-1 early and never recovering.
The Kings grabbed the momentum again in the third set but once again lost their edge in the fourth set as the capacity crowd grew in volume.
Already trailing 18-11 in the fourth frame, Finnigan picked up a red card from the ref, giving the Vikings a free point.
When Kings head coach Aaron Schulha asked for an explanation, he was given another red card, boosting the Augustana lead to 20-11, the Vikings got one pore point before RDC forced a side out and started to chip away at the lead. With ACAC player of the year Luke Brisbane serving and Finnigan taking over on the floor, the Kings got the score back to 23-21, but were not able to complete the full comeback.
Still they had the momentum heading into the final set and built a 5-1 lead. But the Vikings continued to feed off the crowd and closed the gap to 8-6 and a switch of sides.
The Kings was unable to stop the tidal wave and Augustana pushed on to the 15-13 win as the fans rushed the court.
“They were just able to play loose and we started to tighten up when they started to chip away,” said Schulha. “They’re a good team and they had the crowd behind them. At 5-1 in any game it’s not over and I felt our guys just let off the gas a little bit.”
Finnigan finished the day with 27 kills, five digs and four blocked shots and was named a tournament all-star and the Kings player of the game for the final. Brisbane had two kills, 45 assists and 15 digs and Regan Fathers had 15 kills, six digs and one block.
Tournament MVP Luke Ryan had 20 kills and eight digs for Augustana and finals player of the game Cole McCartney had 13 kills, nine digs and four blocks.
The Kings had their fair share of in experience on the floor, including three freshmen in the starting lineup, and they are treating it as something to learn from as they head to nationals.
“Even though it sucks right now, it was a good experience for everyone and I think in the long run, in two weeks we’ll be a lot better as a result of what happened tonight,” said Brisbane, who was named a tournament all-star.
With the CCAA championships two weeks away it will give the Finnigan time to get healthy — he has played through quad injuries all season and had a bout with pink eye on the weekend — and for the Kings to regroup.
“There’s no better motivator than this,” said Finnigan. “Obviously I already have a national banner, but this is my last year, I don’t want to go out like that, I don’t want to ever feel like that again, it’s a big motivator.”