by Fraser Caldwell
From routine to dramatic in a flash, McMaster saw their U SPORTS quarterfinal against Laval quite nearly slip from their grasp, before holding their nerve in the fifth and final set to advance to the national semifinal stage Friday.
The OUA champions built a healthy, two-set lead before their RSEQ counterparts mounted a spirited comeback, with the Rouge et Or ultimately seeing three match points go begging in the 25-16, 25-11, 23-25, 19-25, 17-15 marathon.
With the win, the Marauders now meet a familiar foe in a national semifinal Saturday night, as they face off against the top-seeded Trinity Western Spartans in the day’s final match at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. The two teams are well acquainted with one another, with Trinity Western having defeated McMaster in each of the past two national championship tournaments, most recently in the 2016 final at Mac’s Burridge Gym.
Laval, meanwhile, was consigned to the consolation bracket, and will meet the OUA finalists, the Waterloo Warriors in a consolation semifinal at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.
Leading all scorers on Friday, Mac outside Brandon Koppers had 21 kills and 22 points, killing 21 of 36 attempts versus six errors (.417) while adding an ace. His fellow outside Andrew Richards was similarly strong in the win, with 15 kills and four blocks, while newly crowned OUA West Player of the Year Danny Demyanenko followed close behind with 17 points including 11 kills and six blocks.
Veteran Laval outside Vicente Parraguirre-Villalobos led his team with 18.5 points in a losing effort, including 18 kills.
The Marauders opened strongly on Friday, powering into a 16-11 lead at the first set technical timeout when Jayson McCarthy unloaded on a front row attack from the right. From there, Mac raced to the finish line, and sealed the set when Koppers pushed an attack from the back row through a block for 25-16.
Pressing their advantage in the second, Mac forced a timeout from Laval at 9-4 after McCarthy got above the block and fired down the line. 10 points later, the Marauders had a dominant 16-7 lead at the technical timeout as McCarthy once again found the edge. The set came to an end quickly with the help of consecutive Demyanenko blocks, including the decisive touch on set point.
It all looked destined to be clean and comfortable for the Marauders, but the Rouge et Or had other plans. They signalled their intent to battle early in the third set, and held a convincing 16-9 lead at the technical after an emotional stuff block.
Mac immediately began chipping away after the break, and was within striking distance when Laval forced an attack through a double block for 25-23.
The RSEQ champions kept their collective foot on the gas pedal in the fourth, and continued to lead throughout. They held a slender, two-point advantage at the technical timeout after putting the quick to the floor, and built upon that lead as the teams raced toward the conclusion of the set, forcing a timeout with a block of Koppers for 19-15. There was no comeback to be had for the Marauders, and the Rouge et Or held steady to seal the set and force a deciding fifth.
In that final set, Laval once again nabbed momentum early, and held an 8-5 lead at the changeover. Two match points came the Rouge et Or’s way at 14-12, but Demyanenko removed one from the equation by killing through the middle. The next disappeared when Laval was called on the net, and after the two teams levelled again at 15, Mac took the match for its final turn.
A missed Laval cut shot brought up McMaster’s first match point, and the OUA champions made it count when Koppers successfully blasted a heavy cut of his own to the right side line.