Terrel Bramwell and Mark Mullen of the Humber Hawks combined to block Andrew Keddy of the St. Thomas Tommies during the opening game of Canadian college volleyball nationals at Columbia Bible College on Thursday. Top-seeded Humber made short work of St. Thomas

Terrel Bramwell and Mark Mullen of the Humber Hawks combined to block Andrew Keddy of the St. Thomas Tommies during the opening game of Canadian college volleyball nationals at Columbia Bible College on Thursday. Top-seeded Humber made short work of St. Thomas

Upset win for host Bearcats highlights opening day at CCAA men’s volleyball nationals

The men's volleyball nationals begin on Thursday at Columbia Bible College, and we'll have post-game updates throughout the day.

Editor’s note: The CCAA men’s volleyball nationals begin on Thursday at Abbotsford’s Columbia Bible College, and we’ll add post-game updates to this page throughout the day.

Douglas Royals 3, Sherbrooke Volontaires 1

The Columbia Bearcats are officially the home team at the CCAA men’s volleyball nationals, but the Douglas Royals also looked pretty comfortable in their tournament debut on Thursday.

The second-seeded Royals, cheered on by a vocal band of supporters from their campus down the road in New Westminster, disposed of the No. 7 Sherbrooke Volontaires in relatively swift fashion, winning the last quarter-final of the day in four sets.

Sherbrooke had arguably the two most dynamic players on the floor in outside hitters Nicolas Hoag and Daniel Moreau, both of whom represented Canada at the World Junior Championships in Brazil last summer.

But Douglas boasted superior depth, and the Royals’ multi-faceted attack took over as the game wore on.

“Our team is built on depth,” Douglas middle Mark Vanderwal said. “We have so many solid players, and that’s our game plan – just to stay solid throughout the game and keep steady.”

The first two sets were close – Douglas taking the first 25-23, and Sherbrooke winning the second 25-22.

But the Royals dominated from that point, wrapping up the win by scores of 25-18 and 25-10.

There wasn’t a lot of mystery about what the Volontaires were trying to do offensively – they were trying to get the ball to Hoag and Moreau. Those two accounted for 65 attacks, while the rest of the team had just 18 attempts. Hoag finished with 16 kills, while Moreau notched 13.

Jeff Taylor led the way for Douglas with 22 kills, while the duo of Andrew Robson (nine kills) and Vanderwal (eight kills) were efficient in the middle.

“Obviously Nicolas and Daniel are terrific players, being starters on the junior national team,” Douglas coach Brad Hudson noted. “So any time you play with players like that, the rest of their group plays a little bit bigger, a little bit better, a little bit faster, because they know they’re with some of the best players in the country.

“But at the same time, once we calmed down a little bit and found some stability, we were fine. I think the guys were a little nervous, not having been on this stage before. I think it took us a little while to remember we’re a pretty good team.”

Vanderwal, an Abbotsford native, had family and friends cheering in the stands. But he said it still feels like a road trip.

“It’s kind of weird, because we’re staying in a hotel here,” the 6’7″ Abby Christian grad said with a chuckle. “So it’s a completely different experience.”

The Royals advance to face the host Bearcats in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday, while the Volontaires take on the Mount Royal Cougars in consolation-side action at 3 p.m.

Columbia Bearcats 3, Mount Royal Cougars 2

One year ago, when the Columbia Bible College men’s volleyball team was chasing a national championship in Sherbrooke, Que., the players would gather around the computer and watch Facebook videos of their fans back home in Abbotsford cheering them on as they watched online.

On Thursday, the Bearcats got to experience that passion in person, as a capacity crowd of nearly 1,000 red-clad fans clapped, stomped and cheered at the top of their lungs at Columbia Place.

That wave of emotion powered the sixth-seeded CBC squad to a dramatic upset win, as they rallied to knock off the No. 3 Mount Royal Cougars of Calgary in five sets.

“It was a wonderful game to play in,” Bearcats fifth-year right side Matt Kaminski marveled afterward. “The opportunity to play in this tournament, in front of all these fans shouting and screaming, it’s just phenomenal.

“Just to get that emotion and that drive and that push that we’re playing for a greater purpose, we’re playing for the community of CBC and not just our team anymore, I think it’s amazing.”

At the outset, the electric atmosphere seemed to throw the Bearcats off-kilter. They essentially gift-wrapped the first set to the Cougars with a series of service errors, and lost 25-17.

Kaminski came alive in the second set, powering CBC to a 25-23 win, though the hosts had to weather some nervous moments as Mount Royal nearly battled back from a 24-19 deficit.

The third set was epic. The Cougars were in control, up 23-20, but the Bearcats rallied to take a 24-23 lead. Mount Royal staved off that set point and several others, ultimately prevailing 30-28.

The Bearcats clawed their way back to even terms with a 26-24 win in the fourth set, and in the fifth, they were the better team.

Kaminski brought the fans out of their seats by jack-hammering a ball off the head of Mount Royal libero Lucas Stepanko, and he finished off the game by cramming down a kill between two Cougars blockers. CBC won 15-12, and were feted with a lengthy standing ovation.

“I thought we were a little nervous in the first set, but we got more comfortable as the match went on,” Bearcats bench boss Rocky Olfert said. “I was really proud of the guys, how they responded. We settled down with our passing.”

The Albert champions certainly had nothing to be ashamed of, battling the defending national champs tooth and nail in a game that could have gone either way. Head coach Sean Sky, though, pointed out that the calibre of play indicated the match-up between the two teams should have occurred later in the draw.

“What I saw from the first two matches today (lopsided wins for Humber over St. Thomas and Red Deer over Outaouais), it’s pretty tough for me to look my kids in the eye and tell them this was really the three vs. six match-up,” Sky said. “Let’s be honest – that wasn’t a quarter-final. That’s a semifinal or a final.

“And that’s to take nothing away from CBC’s win. It could have gone either way, but they were the best team in the fifth set. It’s that simple.”

Kaminski was player of the game after racking up 22 kills, and Will Quiring contributed 19 kills to the winning effort. Cougars All-Canadian Colton deMan, targeted relentlessly by the Bearcats on serve receive, hammered down a game-high 26 kills.

The Bearcats will face the Douglas Royals in the semifinals on Friday at 8 p.m., while Mount Royal plays the Sherbrooke Volontaires on the consolation side at 3 p.m.

The Cougars can still battle their way back to the bronze medal game, and Sky said his team will refocus on that goal.

“They’re going to be ready to play, they’re eager to play, and that’s what we’ll set our sights on,” he said.

Red Deer 3, Outaouais 0

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.

Humber 3, St. Thomas 0

The Humber Hawks could not have been any more impressive in the opening game of the men’s volleyball nationals on Thursday afternoon.

The tournament’s top seed from Etobicoke, Ont. demolished the No. 8-seeded St. Thomas Tommies of Fredricton, N.B. in a straight-sets win that took less than an hour to complete. The Tommies didn’t even get to double digits in the first two sets, falling 25-6 and 25-8, before the Hawks eased off the gas somewhat en route to a 25-16 win in the third.

Humber showcased some impressive offensive pyrotechnics. CCAA national player of the year Terrel Bramwell could have filled an entire highlight reel with big kills and scorching jump serves, and he finished with 15 kills on 18 attempts for an .833 hitting percentage. Andre Brown, Humber’s dominant 6’9″ middle, picked up player of the game honours after going 5-for-5 in the attacking department.

But beyond the offence, Hawks head coach Wayne Wilkins was encouraged by his team’s defence, which dug 32 balls and limited the Tommies to a -.127 hitting percentage.

“Our transition game has really improved,” Wilkins noted. “They were picking up balls off the block, guys were digging balls all around, and the passing was solid. We’re pretty happy with the result.

“That first match, not only of the tournament but of the day, is a tough one. The guys came out ready, which is all we asked them to do.”

Wilkins admitted he was surprised at the lopsided nature of the score, which his St. Thomas counterpart Francis Duguay attributed to the Tommies’ defensive breakdowns.

“They’re a really good team . . . and knew we needed to have the defensive game of the year,” Duguay said. “But we just broke down defensively, and they picked us apart a little bit.”

The Hawks move on to play No. 5 Red Deer in the semifinals on Friday at 6 p.m., while the Tommies face No. 4 Outaouais on the consolation side at 1 p.m. Friday.