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No Testa, no title
By John Intini
When the Western men's volleyball team bus departed en route to Laval last week for the CIAU championships, one very important seat was unexpectedly vacant.
Peter Testa, the team captain and the Mustangs' only true setter, was unable to make the trip to the nationals due to a serious case of strep throat.
"Most of us didn't find out about Peter until we got on the bus," middle Andrew Coles said. "Losing a guy like Peter is huge but we had to put it behind us and stay focused."
With Testa unable to compete, Western's head coach Dave Preston was forced to scramble in search of another setter. His solution was to insert fifth-year graduating senior Andrew Brunton into the table-setting role. Brunton made the shift from power hitter to setter and according to teammates, performed incredibly well under the pressure.
Brunton, who returned to the Mustangs around Christmas to compete in his final year of eligibility, found himself in uncharted territories in the final matches of his varsity career.
"He probably hasn't set in competition since high school but he stepped up huge for us," said right side Jeff Ranson of his teammate, better known as "Air 107" for his 107-centimetre vertical. "He probably thinks he could have done more for us as a hitter which must have made the shift tough for him."
The Mustangs, who were seeded eighth of eight teams, were pitted in the first round against the country's top-ranked team, the Alberta Golden Bears, with a roster that boasted Canadian national team middle Murray Grapentine and the CIAU rookie of the year Pascal Cardinal. The Mustangs played a tough four game match losing a tight second game, which according to Coles could have gone either way.
The Mustangs were then trounced by the Winnipeg Wesmen (15-12, 15-6, 15-2) in a game Coles described as a match-up in which nothing went the Mustangs' way.
"It was poor timing," he said. "Sometimes you just have a bad game and the Winnipeg game was proof of that."
The fourth-seeded Saskatchewan Huskies were the eventual tournament champions, beating the Laval Rouge et Or handily in three sets in Sunday's final to take home the gold (15-13,15-10,15-3).
Saskatchewan head coach Brian Gavlas, who led the Huskies to a championship as a player in 1988, said schools from the western provinces have a decisive edge when it comes to national competitions, based on the parity between schools out west.
"Each weekend we play doubleheaders and are forced to play intense two and a half hour matches which obviously raises our level," said Gavlas of his team, which qualified for the tournament as the western Canadian wildcard.
"The fact that we were the wildcard at the tournament speaks enough for our conference. British Columbia is another great school that couldn't make it yet were in the top five in the national rankings all year."
The Huskies' road to the title included a first round win over the defending champion Wesman before edging the top-seeded Golden Bears in a semifinal match to qualify for the final.
Coles said although the weekend was an overall disappointment it is important to set it aside when preparing for next year.
"You aim big and when you lose two games it's a blow," he said. "There is no point dwelling on it. The important thing is that we keep making it to the nationals."
Photo ©Dipesh Mistry