Kings start nationals with win

Experience, it seems, counts for something at the CCAA men’s volleyball championship.

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Experience, it seems, counts for something at the CCAA men’s volleyball championship.

The Red Deer Kings had it, the Outaouais Griffons didn’t, and that dichotomy was evident when the two teams met in the national quarter-finals on Thursday at Columbia Bible College.

The Kings are the New York Yankees of the Canadian college volleyball scene – they won eight straight national titles between 2000 and 2007, and they returned much of the roster that finished fifth at the CCAA tournament in Sherbrooke, Que. last year.

The Gatineau-based Griffons, meanwhile, recently celebrated their first-ever Quebec conference title, and their clash with Red Deer marked their debut at nationals.

The Kings prevailed in three tidy sets, offering a poised response every time the Griffons threatened.

“Our guys have never had a situation where they’ve had to travel across the country and play in a big tournament like this, and we’re a young team,” Outaouais coach Paul Tamburrini noted afterward. “But we’re not making any excuses. We came here hoping to perform, and we just didn’t show up.

“And when you’re facing a team like Red Deer, the winningest team in CCAA history, if you don’t show up, you’re not going to win.”

The Griffons had their moments, but the Kings had more. Outaouais built a modest 3-1 lead to open the first set, but the Kings dominated from that point and won 25-14. In the second set, the Quebeckers forced Red Deer bench boss Aaron Schula to call timeout with his team trailing 7-3, but the Kings went on a 6-2 run to tie it up and eventually took it 25-18.

In the third set, it was more of the same – the Griffons led 4-1 early, but it was all Red Deer late, as they cruised to a 25-16 victory.

“It was a really good all-around performance, but I didn’t like the way we started each of those sets,” Schula analyzed.

“It’s a little bit of a character boost to be able to come back and win all three after being down early, but we need to make that change. The further we go in this tournament, you get down three or four points, and that could be the difference.”

Jackson Maris, the Kings’ freshman setter, picked up player of the game honours after orchestrating the offence to the tune of a .347 hitting percentage. Tucker Leinweber (10 kills) and Quentin Schmidt (eight kills, 11 digs) also had big games for Red Deer, while Hugo Lachance-Berthel was the Griffons’ player of the game after notching a team-high seven kills.

The Kings move on to play the top-seeded Humber Hawks in the semifinals on Friday at 6 p.m., while the Griffons face the St. Thomas Tommies on the consolation side at 1 p.m. Friday.