Vikings close in on playoff spot
University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings Connor Sinnamon dives for a ball against the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves during ACAC men's volleyball action in Camrose on Saturday. Augusta won 3-0. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
Don't look now but the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings men's volleyball team is the hottest in their division.
The Vikings have reeled off four consecutive wins to jump back into the hunt for an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference playoff spot. The top four teams from each division qualify for provincials, and the Vikings (8-11) are now two wins behind The King's University Eagles (10-10) and Concordia University Thunder (10-12) for third and fourth in the North following a weekend sweep of the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves in Camrose this past weekend 3-2 (25-22, 25-19, 19-25, 20-25, 16-14) on Friday and 3-0 (25-22, 25-21, 27-25) on Saturday.
The opportunity is more than a far-reaching dream. The Vikings play the last place Lakeland College Rustlers (5-15) twice this weekend and then finish their season against Concordia, the only two games the Thunder have remaining on their schedule. The Vikings also have a yet-to-be decided make-up game against the Keyano College Huskies (18-3).
"We’ve got ourselves in a position now where it now relies on us not them," said Vikings head coach Stephen Leggitt. "We're not sitting back going 'we hope they lose and they lose and they win and they win.' Now we've got to do our job and as a coach you always like being in that situation."
Augustana has looked like a different team this second half than the one that showed flashes of their potential in the first semester. Not only have they won their last four matches, but they took first place Keyano to five sets in Fort McMurray in their first match after Christmas. With a team loaded with freshman – the often have four rookies on the court at one time – they needed time to season and adjust to a higher level of competition.
"We're starting to realize that to achieve certain success you have to trust one another, you have to work with one another in order to build towards that success," said Leggitt. "We're starting to see it in them now … they're starting to believe and they're starting to realize how good (they are) … the young kids are starting to get it now."
Perhaps the biggest improvement has been in the play of fourth-year setter Logan Pasishnik who has not only become more comfortable with his younger teammates, but the offensive systems have finally clicked for the Saskatoon native.
"I have no idea what happened at Christmas, I don't know if dad took him outside and made him set six million balls in minus-30 ... but there is just something that has clicked," said Leggitt. "The first half that guy couldn't get a service in if his life depended on it, now he's missing one or two a match, if that. He has missed in the last four matches five serves, where as there are times when he has missed seven, eight, nine a match ... He's making beautiful choices."
That continued strong play will be critical as they target the ACAC championships in Medicine Hat.
• The Vikings women split their weekend with the Wolves, with a 3-2 loss on Friday and a 3-2 win on Saturday.
The team is gearing up to host the ACAC women's volleyball provincials from Feb, 21-24. Though the Vikings do get a bye to the tournament, despite currently sitting in fifth place in their division, head coach Greg Ryan likes the way the team is trending.
"I think we've been playing really well, I just don't think we've quite figured out how to play every point of every game but we're getting really close," he said. "We’ve got some good variety in our offence now, which really opens up a lot of things … and then our outside hitters are playing really well, that's the best they've played together and played both from night-to-night."
• The Vikings women's basketball team stayed alive in their hunt for the post season with a dominant two-game sweep over the Wolves in Grande Prairie. Augustana won 96-50 on Friday and 73-60 on Saturday.
Jessica Haenni led the Vikings with 22 points on Friday while Torey Lauber had 17, Emma Van Bruinessen 15, and Samantha Dargis 12. On Saturday, Haenni had 23, Lauber 13, and Dargis and Van Bruinessen 12 each.
The two wins moved them to within four points of the NAIT Ooks for fourth place with six games and a head-to-head showdown on the final weekend looming. Augustana does have the more difficult schedule remaining with the top two teams in the division – Lakeland and Concordia – on tap before the final weekend while the Ooks get the bottom two teams, TKU and GPRC.
The Vikings men dropped both games in Grande Prairie, 102-78 on Friday and 88-85 on Saturday.
The weekend sweep, coupled with a NAIT Ooks split with Lakeland, officially eliminated the Vikings from playoff contention.