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Wednesday, 20 November 2013 14:59

SunDogs show grit in provincial title win

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Battle of the Southwest? How about battle of epic proportions?

It felt like a Battle of the Southwest, only in Moose Jaw. This time, it was for provincial bragging rights and the Great Plains men SunDogs were the top dogs as they beat the Millar Edge in five sets.
The repeating theme for the SunDogs last weekend was not how you start, but it’s  how you finish. Never was this more evident than the championship match —it was a true battle: 34-36; 25-21; 21-25; 25-15; 15-8.
For SunDog men’s volleyball coach Travis Cuthbert, who also happened to earn PAC coach of the year honours, it was a great end to the tournament which didn’t start off so well.
“The four qualifying matches for the final allowed us to find ourselves on the court and that helped,” explains Cuthbert. “I’m super proud of the boys.
“It was basically a whole new group of kids this year. They did not have an awful lot of game experience together. This weekend was the more or less the first time we had all 11 kids on the court and dressed (for the same competition).”
Cuthbert admits to being concerned after the second-ranked SunDogs opened the tournament Nov. 15 losing to the host SIAST Kelsey Amaruks in three sets 23-25; 21-25; 12-15.
Cuthbert says the losses weren’t good, but he was also a “little disheartened” with how the players were emotionally after the game.
Cuthbert was somewhat concerned going into Day 2, but they rebounded nicely Nov. 16 with a win over Bethany Eagles in two straight sets 25-17; 25-19. Then their next match Saturday saw them in a rematch vs. Kelsey and this time they won in straight sets 25-23; 25-17 to advance to the final.
Cuthbert says the team did a great job rebounding from the opener, but were nervous for the final against Millar who they had lost to earlier in the year. This time the SunDogs’ big time players came through. Cody Halvorson, the tourney’s MVP, team captain  and only returning SunDogs’ player came up big defensively helping to put up a wall against Millar’s strikers.
“In that last game, Cody made 10 or 12 awesome blocks against their best hitter and it really crushed their spirit,” says Cuthbert of Halvorson vs. The Edge.
Even so, playing a first game that was a 34-36 marathon loss would sometimes kill a team’s spirit. Not this time. In fact, the teams exchanged games and Cuthbert says he was more concerned about the 21-25 loss than the first game.
“That 36-24 game, I’ve never seen one go that long, it can sometimes squash your hopes, but the boys came back. Then that third game we were up 20-12 and we lost 21-25, I was worried we’d run out of gas,” says Cuthbert. “But, we ran away with the fourth and won the fifth. ... it was great volleyball.”
Besides Halvorson he also gives credit to libero Johnny Neustaeter who was also in the running for the provincials’ MVP. Cuthbert was told by those there he was the unsung hero for the squad.
It was a great end for the SunDogs’ weekend. For Cuthbert, winning the coach of the year (as voted on by peers) was a surprise. He says it’s such a subjective award, but winning an award while his team finishing below .500 for the season is kind of odd. However, Cuthbert felt better about the award after the team won the tournament.
“I was grateful to get it,” says Cuthbert who says it took a while to adjust his coaching style in order to get the best out of his players. With this group, he had to make sure and not put an overt amount of pressure on them and they seemed to thrive on that.
He was proud of how he, and assistant coach Gerod Wiens, molded the team and coached them through the weekend, but in the end it was the players who got the job done on the court.
Mona Patterson, the athletics director for Great Plains College, was ecstatic.
“I am unbelievably proud of their strength and determination this year and of course the fact that they battled so hard for first place at provincials,” says Patterson. “They are a great bunch of athletes and an asset to our SunDogs varsity program.”
The SunDogs women, who were also ranked second going into the provincials failed to make it to the final.
The women opened winning two straight 25-21 and 25-17 over the third seed SIAST Woodland Wild Nov. 15.
However, the Sundogs women had a rough Saturday losing both matches. They first lost to the eventual league champions, the Kelsey Amaruks 19-25; 26-24; 8-15. They also lost in three sets to Woodland: 23-25; 25-13; 7-15.
EXTRAS: Anyone wanting to catch the SunDogs should try and check them out next week as they battle the Millar Edge Wednesday, Nov. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at O.M. Irwin for the annual Battle of the Southwest...Besides Cuthbert, SunDogs’ Marty Funk was named Men’s All Star Player and Krystina Beatch named Women’s All Star Player.

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor