After winning the last six “do or die” games, the ‘Pack is prairie-bound for its final fight
Men’s volleyball has been in a “do or die” situation for every game since the start of the New Year, a challenge they have risen to meet, but the squad is still without a secured playoff spot.
The University of Alberta, Brandon University and Trinity Western University have clinched spots in the playoffs, which leaves the rest of the Canada West league to fight it out for the remaining four spots.
Head coach Pat Hennelly said he’s never before seen it be so “touch and go” this late in the season, with fourth to ninth place teams very close together in their standings.
Especially close in standings are Mount Royal University, TRU and UBC, which have the seventh, eight and ninth spots and will all enter their last weekends at .500.
“Ever since I’ve been coaching, if you’re .500 or better you’ve been in the playoffs. It’s pretty wild the way it’s going to finish up,” Hennelly said.
The ‘Pack will fight for a playoff spot against the University of Sas- katchewan Huskies on Feb. 6 and 7 in one final must-win round.
“Our best chance is to beat Saskatchewan twice to take the seventh spot. I think if we win both we are in. Lose one and we’re out for sure,” Hennelly said.
But the Huskies will doubtfully be going down without a fight. According to Hennelly, a WolfPack sweep will drop the Huskies from the sixth to eighth spot and take them out of the playoffs.
In anticipation for this weekend’s games, the ‘Pack players raised the intensity level at practice and focused on drills that don’t involve an opposing team.
“It’s a little exciting because we’ve put the hard work in to get to this point, but it’s a little nerve racking, too, because your whole season could fall apart in one game,” said team captain Matt Krueger.
“They’re a good team. They’re in the same position as we are, so they have the same mentality of ‘it’s do or die,’” Krueger said. “I think it’s going to be a pretty intense game. They’ve got a couple fourth- and fifth-year players on their squad as well and they want to keep going for their last season just like we do.”
The Huskies will have one more reason to beat the ‘Pack: revenge.
“They want payback because they thought that they were going to move on to playoffs and we kind of stole it from them [last season],” Krueger said.
“They’re motivated to beat us regardless of what it’s for,” Hennelly said.
It was the bumpy start to the season that brought the WolfPack to this must-win situation.
“It’s frustrating because we should never have lost to Regina. We should have beat UBC one of those nights that kind of fell apart. Those are the things that are disappointing, because that’s mental,” Hennelly said. “It’s not that we couldn’t play better volleyball. We just started thinking about the outcomes and worrying. You could just see the guys’ energy and body language fall apart.”
Outside hitter Casey Knight described the beginning of the season as “riddled with injuries.”
“I think if we were full strength from the beginning of the season, it would have turned out in the opposite direction,” Knight said. “We probably would have been hosting, if not definitely in playoffs already, but it goes the way it goes and now we’re just fighting to get back.”
If the WolfPack defeats the Huskies there won’t be much time for rest or celebration, they will be back on the court for their first playoff game the following weekend.