Tommies host nationals despite COVID-19

The 2020 CCAA men’s volleyball nationals at the Grant Harvey Centre didn’t go quite as planned for volleyball fans across the country. The tournament nearly ended before it began, as sport leagues and tournaments across the globe were suspended or cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, including the CCAA men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments.

The men’s volleyball nationals weren’t cancelled, but there was no in-person audience allowed.

Tommies’ head coach Henri Mallet said it was expected but still unfortunate.

“We wanted to host to have that crowd and give that type of volleyball to our local fans,” Mallet said.

Fans were able to catch a quick glimpse of the tournament, with the first two matches being open and a glimpse of the home town STU Tommies’ warmups, before being escorted out of the building approximately a half hour before game time. Ezra Istvanffy, a campus security guard at the event, believed it was necessary for fans to retreat from the building.

“It’s necessary precautions to take at a time that this is,” Istvanffy said.

Despite no fans and an eerie setting around the court, the energy in the building brought by the players was still intense.

STU ended their tournament with a win and two losses, finishing fifth in the tournament. Their win marked the third time an ACAA team won a game at the annual tournament. The previous two were also from STU.

The opener

The Tommies kicked off their tournament to an empty arena on March 12, the first game of the tournament to do so. The Tommies took on the Red Deer College Kings, who won the Alberta College Athletic’s Conference, in their first match. With no fans, players on each side made sure their cheers echoed throughout the building.

The Kings easily handled the Tommies in three straight sets, with scores of 25-13, 27-25 and 25-16.

STU competed hard in the beginning of the first set, with ACAA MVP Christian Christie and ACAA rookie of the year Dallas Melnick leading the way, racking up kills and service aces. The Kings had an 8-6 lead on the Tommies before exploding for six straight points before winning the set.

Dallas Melnick led his team in kills in the opening match with 10. (SRM Photography for STU Atlethics)

“Our passing broke down in the first set,” Mallet said.

“They didn’t miss a lot.”

The second set was the Tommies’ peak of the match, taking the Kings to the limit.

STU jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead before competing in a back and forth affair with Red Deer. The Kings would break through to own a five-point lead at one point, leading 19-14 and later had the Tommies pinned to the wall, leading 24-20. Christie’s kill would start the rally for STU and a Kings error would give the Tommies a 25-24 lead. STU couldn’t pull out another point though, as the Kings scored three straight points to take the set.

The final set played similar to the first set, as the Kings finished off the Tommies with a 25-16 set win, to win the match 3-0.

Melnick had 10 kills while Garrett Dickson had 19 assists.

Dallas Melnick said despite no fans, he knows his team is being supported and knows STU can still compete.

“I thought we put a decent fight up today at some points,” Melnick said.

“People think we’re less skilled but I think we can compete with anybody.”

Bronze medal quarterfinal

The Tommies made history in their match against the Durham College Lords of the Ontario College Athletic Association. For just the third time in CCAA national history, an ACAA team won a match at the tournament.

STU started off firing from everywhere, jumping off to a quick 9-2 lead. The Lords would attempt to catch up, pulling within three but it wasn’t enough to knock off the ACAA champions in the first set. Adam McDougall’s service ace put the Tommies at 24 points and an error from the Lords capped off the set.

Durham bounced back in the second set, exchanging points with STU, both teams switching leads. The Lords would take a lead that would be too much for STU to recover from, as the Lords won the second set to tie the game at one, 25-20.

It didn’t look good for the Tommies in the third set, as their tournament was in danger of ending early. Durham scored the first five points of the set. STU chipped away at the Lords’ lead, tying the set at 10, scoring three straight.

Later in the set, the Tommies were once again pinned, losing the set 24-23. STU answered back with three straight points, with Christie’s service ace topping off the rally.

Durham didn’t get down on themselves after failing to take a 2-1 set lead. The third and possibly the final set panned out the way the rest of the sets did. The two teams went point-for-point, with the largest lead in the set only being three. After McDougall’s kill tied the set at 17, followed by a Lords error, the Lords couldn’t quite catch up, as STU took the set 25-22, winning the game 3-1.

Christie had 16 kills, leading his team, followed by McDougall with 15 of his own.

The finale

The Tommies took on the Volontaries de Sherbrooke in the bronze semifinal match on March 14, the final day of the tournament, with a chance to advance to the bronze medal game later that night.

Adam McDougall makes a play with the set score tied at 24. (SRM Photography for STU Athletics)

STU kept up with the Volontaries in the first set. The Tommies were knotted up at six until the Volontaries dominated, scoring four straight. STU recovered but not fully, only being able to pull within one point. Sherbrooke went on to win the set 25-19 and carried their energy to the second set, not letting the Tommies get anything by and taking another set with a 25-11 score.

STU wouldn’t take their foot off the pedal despite being down 2-0, scoring the first six points of the set. They kept their lead throughout the set, possessing a 22-14 lead, before having a scare. The Volontaries were able to get up to 19 points before STU finished off the set to cut the Sherbrooke lead in half.

The momentum couldn’t carry them over the top however. The Volontaries finished off STU’s tournament in the fourth set, defeating them 25-20 for a 3-1 win.

Christie led his team with 12 kills, while Melnick had 11.

Christie said despite the loss, the tournament was something to be proud of.

“I’m incredibly proud of all 14 of the guys, the coaching staff, our trainer and everyone that’s helped us all year.”

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