Tough playoff bracket awaits Royals men’s volleyball
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
It’s hard to believe that the volleyball regular season is over, but it is. This weekend saw the Royals face off against the Capilano Blues in what would be their last regular series of the year. They would end up splitting that series 1–1 with the Blues, going 3–0 on Friday night, before falling 3–1 on Saturday.
With the split, the team managed to secure themselves the fifth seed in the PACWEST Provincial Championships. They ended the season with a record of 11–13. However, one must really look beyond the record to understand the Royals squad. In the season, the team won 45 sets and lost 50 sets. In a season of 24 games, the team averaged to win, or lose, in slightly under four sets. This bodes quite well for the team. In fact, the team has only been swept in three sets four times. It really shows how much fight the squad has.
However, going deep can also have a hard toll on the players. Their inability to sweep teams has also been hard on their lineup. Coming into the season, the squad was already one of the smaller teams in the PACWEST. The team grew even smaller as they lost budding left side hitter, Mike Howren, to an unfortunate foot-related injury. While the hope was to see Howren back for the playoffs, it’s now become obvious that that will not be the case. Sam Harder, another rookie, has been hampered by his fair share of injuries this year, and his participation in the Championships will be in the air indefinitely. With limited options to lean on should the team go deep into the playoffs, head coach Jay Tremonti will have to hope that his team will be fit enough for the trials ahead.
However, Tremonti can rest a bit easier knowing that what he does have in his arsenal has been more than enough to top giants. Justin Faester has had his run in with the injury bug this season, and has cast that demon aside (hopefully). This season, Faester has played the role of a number one, two, and three hitter, as well as a defensive role when he was hampered with a shoulder injury. However, it’s his role as a leader on the court that has made him invaluable this season. Having not missed a single set this season, and hardly ever getting subbed, Faester has been the consistent presence on the court that the young Royals squad has turned to when they need reassurance or guidance. This season could have gone so much worse for the Royals, but Faester has done more than his fair share to make sure it doesn’t.
Jared Collins has been the heart of the Royals’ attack this year, and although fairly quiet on the court, Collins has managed to pull together a mostly new Royals attacking core, as well as step up to the role of starter this year. Johnson Yi has been a pillar for the Royals. Always there when you need him to be, Yi has been the epitome of clutch, but has also seen some of his performance taper off from last year. Nonetheless, Yi can always be counted on to make a tall impact.
The Royals also have the talents of Devon Dunn to draw upon. To say that Dunn has been an excellent addition to the team would be an understatement. In his return to indoor volleyball, Devon Dunn has taken the PACWEST by storm, and taken the Royals’ offence to a whole new level. When Dunn isn’t on the court, which is hardly ever, it’s noticeable. He may have what the Royals need to push them past the first round and even past some giants. After all, what does he have to lose? Rumour has it that his return to the Royals will be short-lived, and that he intends to move on after this season. If this is true, then how better to leave than with a gold medal around his neck. Either way, Devon has shown several times this year that he has what it takes to be an impact player.
On the younger side of the team, the future is looking bright. Coach Jay Tremonti talked a lot about growing at the start of the year, and looking at the team now, many of the youngsters on the squad are now playing like seasoned vets. Aaron Neumann wasn’t expected to get many minutes this year. Behind several middles on the depth list, it took Neumann until nearly the end of the season to work his way onto his coach’s list. But he did it. The emphatic middle is now nearly a part of every set and even challenges fourth year senior Johnson Yi for playing time.
Like his teammate, Zackery Thielmann had a bit of a rough start to the year. Originally brought in as an outside hitter, Thielmann was given the task of switching to libero mid-season. It wasn’t an easy transition for him, and he struggled in his first couple of games. However, it’s Zack’s personality that really brought him to the next level. His never-give-up attitude and his passion for the game has seen him grow from a shy kid trying to cut it on the big court, to really the heart and soul of the Royals defence. When Zack is having a good game, you can feel it radiating from him, and it’s that sort of energy that will be so important during playoffs.
However, there is really one player that has had an exceptional year despite his age. Jerry Yan started the year with a broken finger, limiting his ability to play in his role of hitter. Coach Jay slotted him into libero to get him some valuable minutes to start the year, but it wasn’t until after he was able to hit that he really found his groove. Moving back into the hitter position, Jerry had an immediate impact on the game, the team, and his teammates around him. Able to put the ball down anywhere on the court with deadly accuracy, it didn’t take Jerry long to establish himself amongst the elite on the team and in the PACWEST. His accuracy in the serve, as well as his ability to finish, paired with his tremendous power and cool demeanour, makes Jerry Yan a vital part of the team’s ability to win.
With nearly every tool on the team accounted for, it’s time to look at the playoff matchups. The Royals split finish against the Blues has landed them a first round tango with the College of the Rockies Avalanche. The Avalanche sit above the Royals in the standings with the same record. However, their head to head records this year have been 3–1 in favour of the Avalanche.
The season matchup for these two teams does not bode so well for the Royals. They lost to the Avalanche early on in the season in consecutive 3–1 games. However, it’s the late season meetings that interest me. The Royals soundly defeated them 3–1 about a month ago, only to lose 3–2 the next day. Even with a split record, the second round of matchups looked convincing for the Royals. Especially that 3–1 to start.
However, the Avalanche are coming off a bye weekend. A weekend of forfeits, to be exact. The UFV Cascades forfeited their games against the Avs, so that means the COTR team pretty much got a rest week. They will undoubtedly be fired up and ready to go. Since it’s only one game, the Royals really need to be careful they don’t get swept away early by the rested Avalanche team. I have faith that the men will make it past the Avalanche, somehow.
After that, a date with the VIU Mariners awaits them… Now it’s looking bad. But is it really? I recall that two weeks ago, we actually beat the Mariners in a 3–2 game. While they defeated the Royals the night before, this time may be different.
Or it could be the exact same. The Mariners, with their top of the table finish, receive a free pass in the quarter-finals, allowing them to rest an extra day. Having to play the College of the Rockies the day before, then the VIU Mariners the day after? It’s going to be tough to pull off, and the Royals will really have to buckle down and push. But should they pull off the upset and win? It’s a trip to the gold medal match and the National Championships for them.
With a wildcard spot for the PACWEST in the CCAA National Championships, it means that the Royals need only to make it to the finals to go to Nationals. As much as a stretch as that may seem, when one game can decide everything, it’s very much possible.
However, I will recognize that VIU are the favourites for the PACWEST Provincial Championship title. I can’t help but feel like the Royals are the dark horse of that side of the bracket. Who will face the Royals in the finals should they make it? It could be the Camosun Chargers, for the ultimate rematch of last year’s gold medal match. But I have a feeling it’s probably going to be the number two seeded, UFV Cascades.
Win or lose in the finals, the Royals will be going to Nationals if they make it there. While the road is undoubtedly tough, I’m sure the Royals will make it, or put up a valiant fight trying to do so.