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Tigers earn 9th straight AUS title

Photo courtesy of Mona Ghiz
Photo courtesy of Mona Ghiz

Source: Allan April, SMU Athletics

HALIFAX, N.S. - The Dalhousie Tigers defeated the Saint Mary's Huskies in straight sets (26-24, 25-22, 25-14) on Thursday night at the Homburg Centre, to clinch their ninth consecutive Subway AUS Volleyball Championship. 

It was a decisive victory for the Tigers, who will now represent the AUS at the U SPORTS Women's Volleyball Championship, which will be held March 25-27 in Calgary. 

Once again it was an electric atmosphere with 400 energetic fans packing the Homburg Centre, but early on, the experienced Tigers did not seem phased by the crowd at all. For the second straight night, the Tigers got off to a strong start, with a service ace from first year Charlotte Arsenault (Ottawa, ON), giving the visitors a 4-1 lead. Arsenault's service continued to be a storyline in the first set, as she recorded three of her game-high four aces in the opening set. The Huskies were able to battle back and took a slim 16-15 lead into the technical timeout, thanks in part to some great play from First Team All-Star Megan Bruhm (Hubley, NS). The two rivals kept the score close, exchanging leads several times over the latter half of the set, until a service ace from Julie Moore (Halifax, NS) gave the visitors a 25-24 lead, and a block by Victoria Turcot (Halifax, NS) and Alessandra Nadalini (Bedford, NS) finished off the set with the Tigers taking it 26-24. 

It was a similar story in the second set, with Dalhousie winning the first four points, before the Huskies were able to storm back and take a slim 16-14 lead into the technical timeout. Huskies libero Renee Cleveland (Saint-Martin, NS) made some fantastic digs in the set, and First Team All-Star Olivia Bell (Lahave, NS) carried the offence with five kills and two service aces in the second set alone, but the Huskies couldn't create much separation on the scoreboard. Saint Mary's did open up a late 22-20 lead, but a Moore kill cut it to one. That's when reserve setter Anika Gaile Almero (Brampton, ON) took over service and made a huge impact, with her ace highlighting five straight Tigers points to take the second set 25-22. 

With the Tigers a set victory away from hoisting the AUS banner, their players responded with some fantastic play to open the third set, and again took an early lead. The Huskies were able to fight back to take a 9-8 lead, but Dalhousie All-Star Victoria Turcot (Halifax, NS), went on a six serve run to open up a 14-9 lead, and the visitors would take a 16-11 lead into the technical timeout. The Huskies would make up some points after the technical timeout, including a pair of powerful kills by middle Bethany Smith (Moncton, NB), but the depth of the Tigers was too much. Down the stretch, Dalhousie was lifted by the play of a pair of second-year unsung heros in outside hitter Kathleen Fougere (Calgary, AB) who recorded two bigs kills to push the lead to 24-14, and middle Grace Calnan (Dartmouth, NS) who finished the match in style with a service ace, to give the Tigers the straight set victory, 26-24, 25-22, 25-14. 

"I feel great and relieved. It's been a grind; we've had three tough matches in about five days. It was a raucous atmosphere here against a great team, and I'm just really proud of the girls," said Tigers head coach Rick Scott post-game. "I think our losses early this season kind of helped us. It didn't feel good, we knew we needed to come together and get better, and that adversity kind of fueled us and our leaders did a great job." 

Julie Moore was honoured after the game as Subway AUS Championship Most Valuable Player, and also was named Subway Player of the Game, recording a game-high 18 kills, and adding six blocks and one service ace. The Tigers received contributions from many players, with setter Brett Boldon recording a game-high 32 assists, and libero Alessandra Nadalini leading the game with 12 digs. 

"It was a huge win for us for sure. We were ranked third (in the conference) going in, so a bit of an underdog, but I think we knew we could do it and definitely played our best volleyball when it counted," said Moore post-game. "We all get along really well as a team, and everyone played amazing today. We really showed our depth, we're still a bit banged up but our rookies really stepped it up." 

"She's the one who steers the ship for us," Scott said of Moore post-game. "She's just a great all-around player and she steps up in big games and leads us. I'm really proud of her." 

For the second straight game, Megan Bruhm was selected as Huskies Player of the Game, with eight kills tying her for the team-high with Olivia Bell. Bell added a team-high 10 digs and two service aces, while setter Jakobie Friesen recorded 22 assists, and middle Bethany Smith (Moncton, NB) had a great game with five kills, two aces and two blocks. 

The Tigers will now go on to represent Atlantic University Sport at the U SPORTS Women's Volleyball Championship, which will be held March 25-27 in Calgary. 

"It will be a big challenge for us, a lot of these girls haven't experienced a national championship, so definitely a lot of preparation but I'm really excited," added Moore.