The Lakeland Rustlers women's volleyball team came away from the ACAC Women's Volleyball Championships with a medal this past weekend, though not the color they had hoped for. The Rustlers finished 3rd, earning the bronze medal at the championships in Calgary, hosted by Ambrose University.
The Rustlers quarter-final matchup would prove to be a tough one, as they faced the host Ambrose Lions. The Lions had the home court advantage, and much of the crowd was on their side, but the Rustlers relied on their experience, staying calm and composed, to earn the quarter-final win. The match between Lakeland and Ambrose went 5 sets, with the winners alternating in the first four. The Lions took the 1st set 25-23, taking advantage of 10 hitting errors by the Rustlers. The Rustlers responded in the 2nd set, leading by as many as 9, but Ambrose fought their way back. Lakeland went on a late run, pulling away to take the set 25-20.
The 3rd set was back and forth the whole way, with both teams fighting to take a 2-1 set lead. The Lions got a big block at the end of the set, helping them win 26-24. The Rustlers got out to an early lead in the 4th set, and their experience and composure helped them take the set 25-20 and force a 5th and final set. In the 5th set, the Lions took the early 8-4 lead, but the Rustlers responded out of the technical timeout. Lakeland would go on to tie the score at 11, before winning 16-14.
The Rustlers were led by fifth-year outside hitters Ahnika Kuse and Shelby Becker and got strong play from all of the starters. Kuse led the team with 24 kills, 18 digs, 3 assists, 2 service aces, and a block, while Becker added 18 kills, 19 digs, 2 blocks, and a service ace. ACAC player of the year Rae Sigurdson finished with 49 assists, 12 digs, and 3 kills. Player of the game for the Rustlers was Kuse.
In the semi-final Friday night, the Rustlers faced the Briercrest Clippers, the #1 ranked team in the South Division. The first two sets could have gone either way, as both went to extra points. It would be fitting that the teams would split the two sets, with the Rustlers taking the 1st 28-26 and the Clippers taking the 2nd 26-24. Lakeland found the level they needed to play at in the 3rd set, as they kept their errors to a minimum with 2 while having 10 kills.
The Rustlers serving was also strong in the set, forcing the Clippers to make bad passes off serve to receive and forced 4 service errors. Thanks to their strong play in the 3rd, the Rustlers won the set 25-17. In the 4th set, it looked like the Rustlers were going to end the match and return to their 3rd consecutive ACAC championship game, but the Clippers had other ideas. The teams went back and forth right to the end, much like the first 2 sets, before the Clippers would squeak out the 25-23 win, forcing a 5th set. In the final set, Briercrest jumped out to an 11-7 lead, and the Rustlers could never recover, losing 15-9.
The Rustlers fifth-year trio of Becker, Kuse and Sigurdson once again led the way. Becker finished with 11 kills, 12 digs, 4 service aces, an assist, and a block, while Kuse added 16 kills, 19 digs, 2 service aces, an assist and a block. Sigurdson was named the player of the game for the Rustlers, finishing the match with 37 assists, 17 digs, 2 service aces, a kill, and a block.
After a tough loss Friday night, the Rustlers responded Saturday and finished off their season with a win. The Rustlers faced the University of Alberta – Augustana Vikings in the bronze medal match, a team they were familiar with from league play. Lakeland controlled and dominated the 1st set, winning 25-17. In the 2nd set, Lakeland once again jumped out to a lead, and played to their strengths of serving, attacking and blocking to keep it rolling and take the set 25-11.
The Rustlers looked to finish off the Vikings in the 3rd set, but Augustana would not go away easily. The Vikings lead from early on in the set, and the Rustlers could never overcome the early deficit, losing 25-20. After playing two, 5 set matches on the first two days of the championships, the Rustlers weren't about to let the bronze medal match go to 5.
Lakeland turned to their fifth-year players and used the experience they have gained with their success over the past two seasons, to come away with the 25-19 win in the 4th set, earning the bronze medal.
In what would be their final games as Lakeland Rustlers, Becker, Kuse and Sigurdson played a huge role in helping their team finish on a high note and come away with the bronze medal. Kuse had 14 kills, 8 digs, and 4 service aces, while Sigurdson had 36 assist, 12 digs, and a kill. Becker made some big plays for the Rustlers late in the match, and finished with 13 kills, 8 digs, 2 service aces, an assist, and a block, earning her player of the game. To cap off the weekend, Kuse was named a tournament all-star.
With the bronze medal finish on the weekend, the Rustlers season has now come to a close. Although the medal earned was not the colour they had hoped for, this team, particularly fifth-years Becker, Kuse, and Sigurdson, have been one, if not the most successful teams in the ACAC and CCAA over the past three years.