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Fifth Set Freeze Locks Men’s Volleyball Out Of Championship Appearance

CMU surrendered two match-point opportunities in the fourth set of Saturday night's 2016 MCAC Men's Volleyball Semifinal, only to see the defending champion Red River Rebels claw back to steal the fourth and advance to Sunday's Championship Match with a 3-2 win (20-25, 25-21, 18-25, 26-24, 17-15).

The first and third sets were all CMU. Midway through the opener, 2016 All-Conference selection, John Nieckarz showed his offensive versatility when he pounded a kill for a CMU sideout and followed it with an ace from the service line to give the Blazers a 15-12 advantage in the set. The scoring run continued as fellow All-Conference selection Joel Kliewer pushed the score to 16-12 on a kill from left-side to force the Rebels into a timeout. CMU would go on to take the set 25-20.

The rivals split the second and third sets to set up the intense drama that surfaced late in the fourth set. Kliewer served an ace to force the Rebels into their first time out of the set at 21-19 CMU. A long rally at 23-21 ended when the Rebels' deep attack sailed out of bounds to set up match point for the Blazers and a sideout at 24-21. 

Championships are won when player perform under pressure and no pressure was bigger than that on Red River power Jarrell Taylor-Babb. Setter Zac McCarthy put the ball in the hands of his favourite target with the elimination hanging in the balance and Taylor-Babb came up big. Points 22, 23 and 25 all came from the physical left-side and the set ended 26-24 when Nieckarz's attack drifted past the service line.

Shocked and unsettled, CMU showed their nerves early in the fifth falling behind 5-2 and crossed the court trailing 8-4 as Taylor-Babb and Neickarz exchanged kills.

"I think our nerves got the best of us in the fifth and we became way too predictable on offense," said CMU head coach Don Dulder who called timeout at 9-5 to try encourage his players to bring a more diverse approach to their attacking. The Blazers rallied as middle Owen Baerg pounded a kill for a CMU sideout, then Jacob Janzen served for two points highlighted by a Kliewer kill.

The final point would not come easy for either team as Red River found themselves on match point at 15-14, only to see Nieckarz keep CMU breathing with a sideout shot from left-side. It would be Tyson Griffiths, stuff block on 16-15 that eventually pushed the margin to two points and give the Rebels a ticket to Sunday's Men's Volleyball Final.

Nothing could be more disappointing for a CMU team that had their hopes set on the 2016 MCAC Championship from day one. A Western Canadian Open Championship win back in November was a mere appetizer for the main course that CMU had in mind. A solid run of excellent play through the second half of the season, including recent wins against both the Rebels and first-place Providence Pilots, had many expecting this to be the year that the MCAC trophy-drought would end. 

Be sure, a team that expects to have their entire 2015-16 roster returning will have another chance for their day in the sun but that chance will have to wait until 2017.



Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference Northern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association