Cougars' courageous comeback thwarted by Spartans

Cougars' courageous comeback thwarted by Spartans
Dan Khavkin, Cougar Athletics

CALGARY - The first-place Trinity Western Spartans visited the Mount Royal Cougars at Kenyon Court and came away with a 3-1 win (25-21, 25-18, 14-24, 27-25).  
 
MRU returned home after a four-game road trip and coming off a sweep of the MacEwan Griffins, leading the top of the wild chase for the final playoff spots while the Spartans were coming off their only two defeats off the season against UBC. 
 
With the loss, MRU drops below 0.500 to 9-10 while the Spartans who survived the scare, bump up to 17-2.
 
"We can compete with this team. They had their guns show up at the right time so we just have to limit our mistakes. It was a good go at them," Cougars' coach Sandra Lamb commented on her team's effort against the top ranked Spartans.
 
Spartan coach Ryan Hofer noted on his team's battle to the end saying, "We knew we had to match Mount Royal's defensive effort, we knew we needed to make some shots and hold a stand at the end there. We came up with some good blocks when we needed."
 
Hofer concluded, "We know they like to split so we're going to do whatever we can to take care of our side and see if we can prevent that. It's going to be a good battle tomorrow."
 
Mount Royal began the match on the front foot, leading from the opening serve until trailing for the first time at 13-12 and elected to call their first timeout, down 14-12. 
 
Trinity Western reached the first technical-timeout up 16-13
 
Natalia Klimenova came into the weekend inside the top five in the digs-per-set category and showed why with her performance on her side of the net, saving a team-high 18 throughout the contest including six in the first set.
 
The Cougars kept it close and kept the Spartans humble, being as close as two down 23-21 until the bitter end of a defensive and long first set that TWU capped off at 25-21.
 
Both teams displayed excellent will on defense with MRU's 22 digs in the first set totalling higher than TWU's 18 but the attacking was more precise on the Spartan end of the court who held on for the set win.
 
Opposite to the first set, the Spartans led the second set from the early get-go, climbing to a 16-11 lead at the second technical-timeout and didn't look back, holding a vice grip on the Cougars who dropped the second 25-18.
 
Both teams equalled error counts at seven but it was the Spartan offense that was slightly more consistent and accurate who also kept momentum on their side, building off untimely Cougar errors while slowly piling their lead on the scoreboard.
 
With their backs against the wall, the Cougars cranked their tempo to a sixth gear and controlled the third set in both points and energy, reaching their first lead at technical-timeout, holding a narrow 16-14 score.
 
The Cougars also held an impressive stand on defense, not conceding a point since the technical-timeout to pick up their first point on the board. The Spartans called a timeout down four at 18-14 and again at 21-14, but couldn't manage to hold back a desperate MRU who took the third set  25-14.
 
A game-high 12 combined kills from the Cougars was the huge turnaround they needed to have in order to change the momentum of the match.
 
The fourth set started even with both team trading points up to a 6-5 score before the Spartans jumped on a run to force the Cougars to call a timeout, down at 11-6.
 
MRU brought the set back, going on a run of their own to tie the set at 13-13 but the Spartans picked up three quick points to reach their third lead at a technical timeout, leading 16-13. Both teams continued to fight shot-for-shot and it dragged onto a sudden-death 25-25 which finally teetered the visitor's way 27-25 to cap off the 3-1 win.