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Tigers win first game of championship series

Photo courtesy of Nick Pearce
Photo courtesy of Nick Pearce

Source: Allan April, SMU Athletics

HALIFAX, N.S. - The Dalhousie Tigers defeated the Saint Mary's Huskies in four sets on Wednesday night at the Homburg Centre, to take a one game lead in the best-of-three AUS Women's Volleyball Championship Final. 

The top seed Huskies came in with a regular season record of 11-4, including a pair of wins over the Tigers, and clinched their spot in the final with a dramatic five set win over the UNB REDS on Saturday night. The #3 seed Tigers came into the playoffs with a 9-5 regular season record, and punched their ticket to the finals with a come-from-behind four set win over the Acadia Axewomen. 

The atmosphere at the Homburg Centre was electric, with a sold out crowd of 400 enthusiastic fans making noise for both teams. Despite the home crowd advantage, it was the visiting Tigers who got off to a good start early, scoring the first four points of the match and opening up a 12-5 lead, thanks to some strong play by First Team All-Star Julie Moore (Halifax, NS), and some uncharacteristic errors from the Huskies attackers. Saint Mary's went on a bit of a run, and were able to cut the lead to 16-13 at the technical timeout, but the Tigers Brett Boldon (Fredericton, NB) went on a five point service run to extend the lead to 21-14. Ultimately it was a big block by Charlotte Arsenault that finished off the set, with the Tigers winning 25-22.  

The back-and-forth continued in the second set, with the Tigers taking an early 7-6 lead, but Saint Mary's responded with three straight points, including a pair of kills by First Team All-Star Olivia Bell (Lahave, NS). It was the Tigers who took a slim 16-15 lead into the technical timeout, and continued to find momenteum in the latter half of the set, as Moore continued to pile up the kills, and Second Team All-Star Sarah Dawe (Mount Pearl, NL) made plays all over the court. The Huskies were able to cut the lead to 22-21, but a pair of kills from Dawe finished off the set with the Tigers taking it 25-21, and taking a commanding two set to none lead. 

The Tigers looked to be in position to finish it off in straight sets, when they took an early 12-8 lead in the third set, forcing Huskies coach Darren Russell to call a timeout. Saint Mary's responded well, scoring six straight points thanks to the service of Mariama Syll (Charters Settlement, NB) and some great attacking by Megan Bruhm (Hubley, NS) to take a 14-12 lead. Huskies libero Renee Cleveland (Saint-Martin, NS) was outstanding in the third set, making highlight reel digs and keeping the home team alive. Saint Mary's took a 16-14 lead into the technical timeout, and then went on a great run behind the service of Anica Jestratijevic (Arandjelovac, Serbia), scoring nine of the next 12 points, capped off by a Syll kill, to win the third set 25-17 and force the match into a fourth set. 

If the Huskies found any momenteum in the third set, the Tigers quickly took control, opening the fourth set on a 7-1 scoring run, thanks to some great service by a pair of first years, Boldon and Charlotte Arsenault (Ottawa, ON). The Huskies were able to claw back once again, with Bell and Bruhm finishing off rallies to retake the lead, 13-11. The set continued to go back-and-forth, with the teams trading two point leads, but the Tigers All-Star outside hitters Dawe, Moore and Victoria Turcot (Halifax, NS) were clutch, able to finish off several long rallies for points for the visiting side. A kill by Dawe gave the Tigers a 22-21 lead, and they wouldn't look back, finishing off the Huskies 25-22 in the fourth set, for a three set to one victory. 

Julie Moore was named Subway Player of the Game for the Tigers, leading the team with 20 kills, and adding 20 digs and two service aces. Dawe was also solid for the Tigers with 11 kills and 19 digs, while Boldon distributed efficiently with 33 aces and 20 digs. Solid serving was an x-factor for the Tigers, as they recorded seven service aces to the Huskies four, including four aces in the deciding fourth set. 

Megan Bruhm was named Subway Player of the Game for the Huskies, leading the team with 16 kills, and chipping in 22 digs and four assists. Olivia Bell also had a solid match with 15 kills, four aces and 21 digs, and setter Jakobie Friesen (Barrie, ON) led all players with 40 assists. 

The two teams will meet again for game two of the best-of-three finals, Thursday night at the Homburg Centre, with first service scheduled for 7 p.m. Game three, if necessary, will take place Friday night at the Homburg Centre at 7 p.m.