The men’s volleyball Tigers lost 3-1 (25-20, 18-25, 25-23, 27-25) to the UNB Varsity Reds in the decisive game three of the AUS finals on Friday March 4 at the Dalplex.
The loss ended the Tigers two-year run as the AUS champs.
“I think we had a lot of chances there,” said Tigers head coach Dan Ota, the 2015-16 AUS coach of the year. “Those two really close sets, sets three and four, I think we had plenty of opportunities to basically take control of the match. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
The Dalplex was bumping with the championship banner on the line. Fans from both sides packed the house.
The edge went to the home Tigers whose fans were energetic and loud all match cheering on their side with the help of the Dalplex thunder. The fans who made the trip for the Varsity Reds created a noticeable buzz for the visiting team.
The two teams exchanged point early in the first set.
2015-16 AUS all-star setter Jonathan MacDonald was masterful all match at creating attack opportunities for his teammates and it showed from the beginning.
He fed 2015-16 AUS all-star outside hitter Kirsten O’Brian who made a slick touch over the block for he Tigers opening point. He set up Harrison Callaghan who powered a kill through the block and he made a beautiful back door set to O’Brian who smashed a cross-court kill to put the Tigers up 3-2.
With the Varsity Reds up 9-8 they started to pull away in the opening set. They went into the technical time-out up 16-12.
The Tigers were able to claw back and tie it up at 16-16 after a kill from 2015-16 AUS all-star middle Matthew Donovan.
The Varsity Reds pulled away again down the stretch taking the set 25-20 and a 1-0 lead in the match.
The second set was the Tigers best. They were in control the entire set, leading from the opening point all the way through. They took the set 25-18 to even up the match at 1-1.
The atmosphere in the Dalplex was electric for the third set. The Tigers carried the momentum of their second set victory over into the third.
O’Brian, Donovan, Matthew Woods, Callaghan, McDonald and Connor Maessen all picked up points for the Tigers as they built an 11-7 lead.
The Varsity Reds then went on a run to tie it up at 11-11.
On the next point 2015-16 AUS all-star libero Adam Sandeson made a spectacular diving one handed dig to keep the rally alive for the Tigers, eventually the ball came to Donovan who demolished a kill for a 12-11 Tigers lead.
The game was delayed when the Varsity Reds notified the officials some fans were using foul language. An announcement was made about fair-play and clean-language and the action was back on.
The teams continued to exchange points. The highlight for the Tigers was a lightning quick dump from MacDonald that tied the game up at 23-23.
A massive rally ensued on the next point, both teams had numerous opportunities to take it. The Varsity Reds ended up with the point on a Pascal McCarthy kill. They won the next point as well and took the third 25-23 for a 2-1 lead in the match.
The fourth set was as tightly contested as the third. Neither team was able to build more than a two-point lead for the entire set.
The Tigers went up 20-19 on a Maessen kill and then 21-19 after a McCarthy error.
The Varsity Reds stormed back and had match point at 24-23. The Tigers took the next two-points on an error and a Callaghan kill to give themselves set point at 25-24.
The next three points went to the Varsity Reds as they took the set 27-25 and the match 3-1.
“They played well, give those guys credit they played well,” said MacDonald. “They were just a little bit better in some key areas. We had some chances to pull away, you know in the third set there, just a couple point here or there and it might be a different game.”
The Tigers attack was led by Donovan who had 14K. O’Brian and Callaghan each had 11K. Maessen added 7K, Woods 4K. MacDonald finished with 44A, 14DIGS and 1K, while Sandeson came up with 15DIGS.
McCarthy led the charge for the Varsity Reds with 20K. Elvind Anderson added 10K and 18DIGS, while Samuel Alves made 8K.
The loss means the Tigers season is over.
“It’s unfortunate because I know how hard these guys have worked all year,” said Ota. “At the end of the day we’ve got to be able to execute in those moments and I thought we kinda lost our composure a little bit.”
It was the last career match for graduating players MacDonald, Maessen, Jordan Lynch and Logan Baillie.
“It’s been a ride,” said MacDonald. “It’s been awesome. I’ve had some tremendous highs and some crazy lows, this obviously being one of them but it’s been an experience and I’ve loved every second of it. “
“There’s nothing I would go back and do differently. It’s a tough way for it to end, it’s disappointing but, you know, you learn from it and move on to the next things in life,” he said.