CCAA National Bronze Medalists | March 10, 2018

CCAA National Bronze Medalists | March 10, 2018

It wasn't first-place but it wasn't fourth place, either.

The Lakeland College Rustlers picked up a bronze medal at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association women's volleyball national championship tournament, following a three-set win (25-15, 25-20, 25-16) over the Humber College Hawks at Grande Prairie Regional College gym on Saturday night.

Nothing can ever match the thrill of running on to the court to mob your teammates knowing you're the best team in Canada.

Last year, the Rustlers had the pleasure of that rarified feeling but this year it's 'just' a bronze, but the feeling of winning, no matter the medal, well,  that never changes.

"To come from Lakeland College and to say 'we're the third best team in the country this year,' I'm super proud of our team," Rustlers head coach Austin Dyer said. "Just the fact we can say that, that we're here, that we won that bronze medal, is huge for our program."

"It's was a big deal for us to bounce back after the loss on Friday night (to the Vancouver Island Mariners in the semifinal)," setter Rae Sigurdson added. "That was the first thing we talked about, we had to leave it in the past, and (move forward)."

But just as bad as winning a medal they wanted to play better. They came into the tournament as the defending national champion and, through the first couple of games, they didn't resemble that team at all.

But not on Saturday, especially on Saturday night. They had the bounce, they had the look of a team that was the best in the country just a year ago.

"Everything was about how we played" Dyer said. "We didn't see it until (Saturday night). We looked like defending national champions. We've been fighting it real bad but on Saturday we showed up."

It's unfortunate the Rustlers 'showed up' a day late but an improved performance was something they needed to do.

"We weren't ourselves this weekend," Sigurdson said.

Dyer is the master of his volleyball domain but one thing he can't master is internal and external pressure. Maybe he can manage it but that's about the best he can do.  The club felt the pressure in trying to repeat. That never went away until Friday night.

And when it did it was transformative.

"We expected to win the whole thing and when things weren't going our way it was hard to break the tension," Dyer said. "Once it was gone, we played loose, free and we were awesome."

"It was always in the back of our heads, we thought about it all year," Sigurdson said about the pressure to repeat. "When we came here we tried to avoid it but it was the reality."

The Rustlers got into the bronze-medal game following in a three set win (27-25, 25-23, 25-19) win over the Elans Garneau on Saturday morning.

Naturally, the club was emotionally distraught after the loss on Friday night, with more than a few wet eyes in the locker room post-game.

But the sun came up and life continued on the way it has for eons. There were other challenges upon this earth worth striving for.

Like a bronze medal.

"We were crushed on (Friday night,)" Dyer said. "The pressure of trying to repeat, and you wake up the next morning, and it's gone. We got up (on Saturday morning) and said 'let's try to be the best team we can.' All the pressure is gone so we can play free  and try to worry about our own side."

Mission accomplished.

Story and photo provided by:  Gordon Anderson