MRU Cougars back to finish business at women’s volleyball nationals


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Haley Roe put the country on notice a year ago.

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The star outside hitter of the Mount Royal Cougars declared at that time they’d be back to finish business in 2023.

“Definitely next year,” said Roe after last winter’s heartbreak in the national finale.

“We’re coming for that banner.”

And so, there they are at the U SPORTS Women’s Volleyball Championship, set to begin Friday at UBC’s War Memorial Gym in Vancouver.

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Roe and the No. 3 Cougars are ready to rock at nationals, hoping to avenge that gold-medal loss of 2022 — a 3-1 (25-14, 14-25, 25-19, 25-20) drop to the top-ranked Trinity Western Spartans at the University of Calgary.

“We are excited,” said MRU head coach Shane Smith. “It’s been a long tough road to get to this point, so we are very much looking forward to it. We have been here before, and our group is ready for the challenge.”

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The first step in that challenge comes Friday against a fellow Canada West foe.

The third-ranked Cougs — after a 19-5 regular season and a 4-1 playoff campaign that earned them a Canada West silver finish — set up to play the No. 6 Manitoba Bisons in quarterfinal action (9 p.m. MT, USPORTS.ca). The Bisons charge into nationals with a 14-10 mark through the regular schedule, followed by a 3-2 post-season record and a bronze-medal take from the conference championships.

“The Bisons are a good team that are tough to play against,” Smith said. “We saw them recently in the Canada West Final Four, so we feel like we know them pretty well, and I’m sure they feel the same. We are expecting a battle. We totally focused on that match on Friday night — that’s for sure.”

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The MRU women beat back the Bisons twice in the CW playoffs before falling to the nemesis Spartans 3-0 in the gold-medal match (25-18, 25-22, 25-15).

And, of course, defending champ Trinity Western, which swept its way to this year’s Canada West title, is in the national hunt as the No. 1 seed. This is the fourth straight time — and the sixth since 2015 — that the Spartans have entered the tournament as favourites.

In that CW championship match, Nyadholi Thokbuom, with 11 kills and six blocks, and Roe, with six kills and nine digs, led the Cougars. TWU’s Dora Komlodi finished the night with 31 set assists and 10 digs, while MRU’s Quinn Pelland with 26 set assists, eight digs and six blocks running their respective offences.

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Perhaps they’ll meet again in the final, just like last year at U of C’s Jack Simpson Gym.

“This is a tough tournament — the best teams from across the country are here,” added Smith. “We just want to go out and be who we are and play our best volleyball at this point of the season.”

The other quarters feature: the No. 5 Dalhousie Tigers (Atlantic’s AUS champions: 17-3, 4-1) vs. the No. 4 UQAM Citadins (Quebec’s RSEQ champions: 13-5, 4-0) early Thursday (2 p.m.); the No, 8  McGill Martlets (RSEQ finalists: 12-6, 2-3) vs. the No. 1 Spartans (CW champions: 22-2 regular season, 5-0 playoffs) later Thursday (4 p.m.); and the No. 2 Brock Badgers (Ontario’s OUA champions: 18-2, 3-0) vs. the No. 7 UBC Thunderbirds (hosts: 18-6, 0-2) later Friday (6 p.m.).

Consolation games will take place on Saturday at 2 and 4 p.m., with the semifinals set for 7 and 9 p.m. On Sunday, the fifth-place game is set for 1 p.m., with the bronze-medal game following at 3 p.m. and the championship game at 5:30 p.m.

tsaelhof@postmedia.com

http://www.twitter.com/ToddSaelhofPM

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