Tigers lose to UNB men’s volleyball playoffs; 24-year streak ends
Ian Froese, Staff Contributor
Dalhousie’s 24-year stranglehold on the AUS championship was going to snap eventually. It had to. But that doesn’t make the men’s volleyball team’s defeat to the UNB Varsity Reds any easier to accept.
“Yeah, I never ever imagined my career ending like this,” fifth-year veteran Max Burt said in a phone interview after his final match as a Tiger.
Instead he envisioned adding a national championship to his resume.
“I mean, it’s kind of funny, when I got recruited with the guys in my same year we always wanted to be remembered as the team that finally brought (national) gold to Dal, but I guess we’ll go out as the team that ended the streak.”
UNB collected first blood on Feb. 18 in the opener of the best-of-three series when they bounced back from a 2 – 1 disadvantage to take a hard-fought five-set match. Two days later, UNB arrived at the Dalplex to rewrite the history books, edging the Tigers in another nail-biting contest. The scores went 18 – 25, 25 – 19, 25 – 22, 24 – 26, 15 – 12, giving UNB its first championship since 1979 and knocking out the dominant Tigers.
“UNB obviously came ready, and we were unable to raise our level of play enough,” said Tigers head coach Dan Ota.
The Reds notched 23 kills and 10 digs courtesy of Julio Fernandez, and Tyler Veenhuis added seven kills and 11 digs of his own.
“We are a team that, in the beginning of the year, certainly had aspirations to do very well at a national level,” Ota said over the phone, “so it’s unfortunate this is the way the season went for us.”
Dalhousie’s loss ends their remarkable championship reign. For almost a quarter of a century, the Tigers were a dynasty, winning every AUS banner between 1987 to 2010, and 30 of the past 31. AUS men’s volleyball is considered Dal’s to lose every year.
Followers of the conference, however, were well aware the streak’s days were numbered. UNB were continuously scaring the league’s perennial favourites year after year, and the Varsity Reds showed why they should be feared a weekend before when they decimated the Tigers in six consecutive sets. Dalhousie’s stunning collapse in two straight contests paved the way for the V-Reds to wrestle the regular season title, and later the banner itself, from the black and gold.
The Tigers had their share of issues this season, interrupting their chances for a repeat, said Ota. They suffered from injury problems, most notably Burt, who was sidelined for the first half of the season, and their starters struggled to develop chemistry on the court.
“I think the result is a reflection both on what UNB has done and what happened to our program this year,” said Ota, the nine-time coach of the year.
The defeat stings for the Tigers outfit. Their loss cost them a berth in the CIS championship. However, in a bare-bones AUS circuit of three teams, a changing of the guard might be a good thing. It causes the other national conferences to take notice.
“Looking at the big picture, UNB winning gives our conference more legitimacy across the country, and that’s a very strong thing for our conference to have,” said Ota.
The Tigers bid farewell this season to four players who reached their eligibility limits. They are Burt, Sander Ratsep, Aaron Binstock and Devon Parkinson.