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WVB: Bisons advance to nationals for first time since 2014, beat Winnipeg 3-2

WINNIPEG — Round three of the cross-town rivarly lived up to the hype, as the No. 6 seeded Manitoba Bisons knocked off the No. 4 seeded Winnipeg Wesmen 3-2 (25-21, 27-25, 20-25, 21-25, 15-13) on Friday night at the U of W to secure Canada West bronze, and the final spot at 2023 women’s volleyball nationals in British Columbia next weekend.

It’s the program’s first trip since 2014, and head coach Ken Bentley‘s 20th overall as head coach. 

“We put it in, man. We put in our time. The result doesn’t surprise me with respect to the training we put in to get this result,” said Bentley. “But we knew it was going to be really hard, which it was. I’m just thrilled to take this team to nationals and see where it gets us.”

Rookie of the Year Raya Surinx was fed 75 times in the game, recording a career high 26 kills, the seventh-most in a five-set playoff game in Canada West history.

The team leader in kills, with 362 on the year was given every opportunity to swing, and even when the shots weren’t going her way, veteran setter Katreena Bentley — who had a career high 60 assists, the fourth-most in a five-set playoff game — continued to look her way. When her cross-court shot was being denied, she went line, and she mixed in a strong pipe attack and roll shot as well. 

Her head coach also talked to her on the bench with Winnipeg up 13-9 in the third set, to help instill further confidence. 

It was Surinx’s smash off hands and out of bounds off the left side that won the fifth set and the game for the Herd, and she added a career-high 19 digs. This comes two weekends after tallying a combined 44 kills in a two-game upset of No. 3 seed UBC in the quarterfinals. 

“Raya fought today. Obviously it was a huge match for her,” added Bentley. “I just said to her, keep hitting. It will go your way, but you’ve got to stay persistent, which she did. That last swing was beautiful. Right into the hands, challenged the block, what a great swing from her, you couldn’t script it any better.”

The contest was a thriller from start to finish, with a sold-out crowd of over 1800 making their presence felt. The two teams combined for 213 digs in a game where every point was earned.

Bisons libero Julia Arnold led all players with 35 digs, breaking a nine-year, five-set conference playoff record, which was previously 34, set by Jessie Niles of Alberta.  

Neither side led by two than two for most of the first two sets, with Manitoba going on multiple runs to close out both. 

In the first, the Herd came back from 18-16 down, scoring six in a row to take a 22-18 lead. They wouldn’t trail the rest of the way.

Andi Almonte, who finished with a career-high 26 digs and added 11 kills, was big at the service line and on defence during that time, and Surinx and middle Brenna Bedosky ended things with an assisted block. 

Almonte’s steady play was particularly key with Winnipeg up 18-17. She calmy posted four digs from the back row, allowing Surinx to tie things at 18 on a shot that pained the back line. 

Down 22-20 in the second, Manitoba went on another run, scoring four points in a row. The Wesmen got the game to extras, but Ella Gray, who had 13 kills and nine digs, nailed a line shot followed by an Almonte blast off hands to make it 2-0 Bisons. 

Bentley was massive during the set as well, with three sprawling digs that eventually led to Manitoba points. 

Winnipeg led by as much as eight in the third, but a Gray service ace trimmed their lead to 21-19 late. A solo block for the Wesmen, followed by an over bump off a serve swung momentum back in their favour and they won by five. 

The Herd led by five on multiple occasions in the fourth, including 18-13, but Winnipeg went on a run of their own, scoring seven straight to take the lead. Ashleigh Laube had 19 kills entering the fifth, and finished with 20 overall as the Wesmen held on to take it to five. 

Winnipeg opened the fifth on a 5-1 run, only to see the Bisons go on a seven-point run themselves. Bentley had a service ace during that time, while Surinx added three straight kills to give her side an 8-5 lead. 

With their backs against the wall, Winnipeg kept digging relentlessly. Surinx went right at the back row, and Laube, libero Taylor Cangemi, who had 18 digs, and company, kept rallies alive. A Taylor Kleyson kill tied things at 12, setting up a wild finish. 

Arnold would not let the ball die in the final points, standing in the pocket and dishing dimes to Bentley. She had four massive digs late, setting up Bedosky for a block that put Manitoba on game point. Surinx did the rest, as Manitoba booked their ticket to BC.

“Against this team, we knew that the rallies weren’t going to be short,” said Katreena postgame. “We knew they were going to be long rallies where we had to dig in. Everyone had to be ready all the time, and it wasn’t going to be pretty, which it was not. We somehow hung in there.”

“I think our motto going into this game was that we would win the rally eventually,” added Arnold. “We don’t need to get the kill on the first ball. I think that was really important for us as a mindset going in, that we could endure those really long rallies, because we knew we were going to have some.”

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