VIU volleyball wins gold, then loses it

The VIU Mariners reigned as national champions – for a couple of minutes. Then it was all taken away.

Vancouver Island University’s women’s volleyball team lost to Mount Royal on Saturday in St. John, N.B. in the gold-medal final of the Canadian Colleges’ Athletic Association championships.

The controversy came with the Mariners playing for match point, up 24-20 in the fourth game, leading two games to one.

Lindsay McLoughlin’s kill may or may not have ricocheted off a Mount Royal player out of bounds. But the referee signalled a touch off the block. Match point.

“We had won nationals. It was 25-20,” said Shane Hyde, VIU coach. “Clipboards were thrown, the bench charged the court, we’re in there celebrating, the photographer’s out taking photos of the national championship team.

“And then for some strange reason the referee decided that she was going to reverse her call. I’ve never seen it in my life.”

Somehow, order was restored in the G. Forbes Elliot Athletics Centre. Hyde didn’t even argue the reversed call – he was in shock, he said.

“It was definitely one of the most bizarre ends, or possible ends, to a match I’ve ever seen,” said Natasha Kelly, tournament chairwoman.

“I think [the referee] had the right signal but maybe just pointed the wrong way.”

So Mount Royal was awarded the point and the teams lined up again with the score 24-21. All the M’s needed was a side out. But they were in no frame of mind to play on.

“If we would have had those three opportunities to side out and win a national championship [under normal circumstances], we would have done that. I know we would have,” said Hyde. “But the fact that we had already let loose and celebrated and then to come back on, it was an eerie feeling.”

Kelly said she believes, “for sure,” that both teams had a fair chance to win the championship. As it happened, Mount Royal won, coming back for a 26-24 win in the fourth set, then dominating the fifth set 15-10. Hyde said part of him is pleased with silver, but on the flipside, he can’t help but think that gold was taken away from his team.

“I’m really proud of the girls and I’m really proud of their performance,” he said. “All three matches at nationals we played extremely well; we were the best team there by far.”

As for the play that sparked the controversy, Hyde hasn’t yet taken a closer look at the game film.

“It may take me a few days to watch it,” he said.

All in all it was an emotional weekend for the M’s. In Friday’s semifinal they pulled off a remarkable comeback victory over their No. 1 rivals, the UBC-Okanagan Heat, 17-25, 17-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-11. After dropping the first two sets the M’s went down 22-18 in the third and Hyde called his last timeout.

“They rallied and gained the momentum and started to believe and the next thing you know, we’re knocking off set by set,” said the coach. “The only word I can think of is heart, and determination not to end their season there. You could see them doing just a little bit extra.”

COURT SHORTS … The first game at nationals was a 25-20, 25-17, 25-16 win over Grande Prairie on Thursday. Jacqueline Doleman was player of the match in that one with a 100 per cent hitting efficiency and six blocks. Cheyla Reader was player of the match in the semis with 11 kills, six digs and nine blocks and McLoughlin was player of the match in the final with 18 kills, 11 digs and five blocks.