ICYMI: MRU Cougars chase for national volleyball title cut short
By Dan Khavkin, Sports Editor
A season covered in accomplishment for the MRU Cougars men’s volleyball team came to an abrupt end during the 2019 USPORTS men’s volleyball national playoffs.
This year’s men’s volleyball became the first team in the school’s history to qualify to USPORTS national playoffs.
MRU drew familiar foe in the Alberta Golden Bears in the quarter-final of nationals with the Bears completing a 3-0 win in straight sets.
The Cougars however, kept their heads high and ended up winning the consolation final, defeating the rest of the eliminated schools in an unofficial playoff.
Despite the bid for a national championship being cut short, the Cougars have plenty to look forward to.
MRU finished the Canada West regular season with their best record since joining the university level seven years ago with a 15-7 record.
Two of those losses came at the hands of the Golden Bears in the second weekend of the season in which MRU responded with by going on an 11-1 tear.
The Cougars were two games behind U of A in the final league standings but finished the season higher in the national rankings.
MRU peaked as high as second in the national rankings, not dropping below the fifth spot all season long.
In the Canada West playoffs, MRU retained the right to hosting privileges for the first time in program history, hosting the number eight nationally ranked Saskatchewan Huskies in a final weekend rematch that saw the Huskies sweep MRU at home.
This time it was MRU who returned the favour, winning the best-of-three series 2-0 before advancing to the semi-final.
In the final four, the Cougars travelled to the number one volleyball program in the nation for a weekend set against the Brandon Bobcats.
The 20-2 Bobcats suffered their only defeats at the hands of the Cougars and seemed to still be in trouble against MRU as the Cougars stole a game-one decision in straight sets. BU however, responded ferociously and won the next two games and moved onto the regional final.
The Cougars’ season was not over yet as they finished well within the final top eight national rankings and booked its ticket to nationals on the merit of capturing a wild card playoff spot.
The Cougars had about an 80 per cent chance of making nationals but the win against BU solidified that chance at around 95 per cent according to head coach Shawn Sky.
“We knew right away our season is not over. A little disappointing not to win our league but being the first program in MRU to qualify for nationals is special and the guys know it too.”
MRU ends its season with the following accomplishments: best regular season record, first ever home-court playoff game, trip to quarter-finals, then semis, lasted to game three in Canada West semi-final action, first trip to USPORTS national playoffs and the first MRU team to qualify for nationals. Tyler Schmidt is now also Canada West’s all-time leading points and kills getter, while two athletes recognized at the national level (Schmidt, first-team all-Canadian, Luis Lange, all-rookie team), with three also recognized at the conference level (Schmidt, first team all-star, Tanner Graves, second-team all-star, Lange all-rookie team).