Marauders face a familiar rival in volleyball semi

(Photo: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics)

(Photo: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics)

The Marauders weathered the early storm against the tournament hosts, and settled into their blistering pace to move into the Canadian Interuniversity Sport volleyball semi-finals in four sets at the expense of the Calgary Dinos. Set scores on Thursday (Feb. 27) were 24-26, 25-21, 25-17 and 25-22 for the No. 2-seeded Marauders.

The Marauders next opponent will be their Ontario University Athletics rival, the Western Mustangs, in a national semi-final for the second consecutive year on Friday. Western moved into the second round by duplicating their five-set success of a year ago against the Trinity Western Spartans.

Western and McMaster met just a week ago in the conference final, where McMaster prevailed in four sets on home court.

Veteran outside Jori Mantha was the top scorer on Thursday, racking up 22.5 points on 21-46 hitting versus 10 errors (23.9 per cent) and adding one and a half total blocks. Stephen Maar was efficient on the outside, converting 17 of 36 attempts versus five errors (33.3 per cent) and adding two aces for a total of 19 points. Danny Demyanenko and Jayson McCarthy also entered double digits on Friday, with 12.5 and 12 points respectively.

While leading the match with 47 assists, Austin Campion-Smith also posted a game-high 15 digs.

Outside Greg Mann was the leading light for the Dinos, posting a team high of 12.5 points.

The Marauders seemed out of sorts as the match got underway, misfiring from the field and the service line, and helping the Dinos carve out a slight lead along the way. The home crowd was encouraged, and had all the more to cheer for when Sean Tuff came up with a solo block to stuff Demyanenko for 12-8. Calgary clung to the advantage at the service line, but a four-point run by the Marauders snatched them the lead at 17-16 when Demyanenko converted a quick through the middle.

The set devolved into an ugly dogfight in its final points, with both teams struggling to pinpoint their serves. Calgary, however, drew first blood as Connor Frehlich wiped wide to bring up set point and a Marauder miscommunication in serve-reception sealed the first set 26-24 for the Dinos.

McMaster rebounded quickly from the early setback, and won four of the first five points to open the second set. The pace picked up as the teams barreled toward the technical timeout, and the Marauders were getting the best of the crisp offensive exchanges. They led 16-12 when a Calgary serve sailed long to take the teams into the break. The set seemed well in hand as McCarthy painted a tight line cross court for 20-15, and it was quickly brought to a close.

Maar wiped wide from the right side to bring up set point, and Demyanenko delivered the final blow by splitting a double block through the middle for 25-21.

Having leveled the match and swung momentum, McMaster put its foot down and claimed five of the first six points of the third set. Side-out volleyball followed, but the Marauders held their lead in the exchange, and carried a 16-12 advantage into the technical timeout. They found another gear in the late stages, and after McCarthy wiped an attack long to bring up set point, a resounding double block clinched the set and powered McMaster into the overall lead.

The Dinos showed some fight to race out to a 5-1 lead early in the fourth set, and force a timeout from McMaster’s Dave Preston. But McMaster responded almost instantly, and retook the initiative at 8-7 when Tyson Alexander came up with an emotional stuff block. The Marauders built on that newly-acquired lead, and entered the technical timeout with the familiar 16-12 score when Maar thumped down one of his two aces on the night.

The finish line seemed to be in sight when Mantha notched his 20th kill of the night, off the Calgary block, to extend the lead to 19-14. Despite a late surge that saw the Dinos draw within three points after another Maar ace brought up match point, it was too little, too late for Calgary. Mantha fittingly scored the final point of the night, threading a kill cross court and past a double block, as McMaster advanced to the semifinal round for a second consecutive year.

The Marauders and Mustangs will renew their rivalry yet again on Friday, with a place in Saturday’s national final on the line. That semifinal clash will be the last match of the night, and is set to get underway at 10 p.m. Eastern time.