The Niagara Knights men's volleyball program came back to take down the OCAA East's top team, the Georgian Grizzlies, in the opening round of the OCAA Championship at Humber College on Thursday night.
The Knights, who came into the tournament after finishing as the OCAA West's 4th seed, faced the Grizzlies in the opening match with a date with the Humber Hawks in the semi-finals on the line. Niagara got out to a perfect start, stunning the Grizzlies despite a loud Georgian fan base, taking the first set 25-21. The Grizzlies regained momentum, however, and turned the tables on the Knights winning the next two sets.
Not wanting their season to end, the responded and inched their way to a fourth set victory to force the fifth and final set. When it mattered most with the game on line, Niagara smashed their way to a 15-8 victory in the final set to punch their ticket in the semi-finals.
Ben Fillmore (Port Dover) had a terrific night as the fifth-year setter showed veteran leadership and composure, setting up his attackers all night long. He finished with 34 assists and also played some terrific defence, registering 10 digs. Perhaps his most impressive defensive play of the night came in the fifth set when he passed a ball perfectly back to his team nearly reaching over the Knights bench on a ball that looked well out of play. Fillmore was rewarded with the Player of the Match Award for the Knights.
Elijah Bugiardini (Hamilton), Jaydon Milne (Toronto) and OCAA West All-Rookie Team member Micah Nieuwets (St. Catharines) got the job done attacking-wise as per usual. All three finished with double digit kills as Milne led the way with 12 while Bugiardini and Nieuwets had 11 and 10 respectively.
Kyle Thiessen (St. Catharines) had some key kills, slamming home loose balls along the net a few times that the Grizzlies had no chance to recover. Libero Robert Zalewski (Ingersoll) played a good game as well, finishing with 16 kills.
Georgian's Liam Gray, the OCAA's service ace leader in the regular season, won the Player of the Match Award for his squad. Gray had four service aces in the loss while Jordi Romero and Erich Perau combined for 13 kills each.
The Knights will take on the Humber Hawks tomorrow night in the semi-final matchup beginning at 8pm. So far this season, the Knights are 0-2 against the host Hawks, but looked more than capable of snapping that losing streak tonight. They will hope to carry their momentum into the match as the Hawks will be playing their first game of the tournament.
The winner of the Knights-Hawks match will play the winner of the other semi-final game taking place at 6pm between the undefeated Fanshawe Falcons and the Redeemer Royals. The two winning teams will square off on Saturday for a chance at an OCAA Gold Medal.
If the Knights win their match with Humber, they will guarantee themselves their first OCAA medal since the 2014-15 season when they won the OCAA tournament before finishing with a bronze medal at the CCAA National Championship. A win in the semi-finals tomorrow also guarantees a berth into the 2019 CCAA National Championship at Red Deer College in Alberta.