The top two team’s in the conference came into the weekend’s Final Four with identical 13-3 records, and did not disappoint in the heavyweight finals matchup.
The Pilots got off to a hot 4-0 start in the first set, with a massive kill from conference MVP Matthew Friesen and a pair of blocks from all-conference selection Brett Foley. The Blazers got back into it with their serving, both John Neickarz and Carter Hofer connected on their own aces that foreshadowed what Providence would be facing for the rest of the match.
Friesen broke an 8-8 tie with a huge kill from the right side then followed it up with an ace of his own. Tournament MVP Mackenzie Hildebrand came out of a Blazer timeout with a massive smash to inch back into down 9-12, then Adam Tallaksen came retaliated with back to back hits from the right side to maintain the lead for the top seed.
After reaching an 18-18 tie, the Blazers went on a three-point run for their first lead of the set that forced a Providence timeout. Right out of the timeout, the Blazers front line made two straight blocks at the net to force another one from Pilots coach Scott Masterson. Tallaksen who remained a bright spot for the Pilots in the opening set killed another on right side, before Hildebrand came right back at ’em the next rally to win the set 25-19 for the Blazers.
Momentum continued for the Blazers in the second going up 8-2 before another Providence timeout. The Pilots continued to have a difficult time returning Blazers big man John Neickarz’s powerful serves, which came as no surprise, as Neickarz was fourth in the conference this season with 35 aces.
The Blazers were playing solid, mistake-free volleyball, coming up with every ball and capitalizing on their serving. After finding themselves down double digits and spending most of the frame chasing dug balls, Masterson took another timeout looking to correct things, but nothing seemed to change and the Blazers rolled to a 25-18 second set win.
With their backs up against the wall, Providence never looked to give up hope. Their team spirit remained high and everyone continued to encourage each other, regardless of being down two sets to zero.
After a thrilling minute-long rally, Pilots outside hitter Brett Foley came in with a smash to tie it up at eight. The third set was the tightest, with neither team able to build a lead larger than a few points. Both teams missed on serves coming down the stretch and came out of a Blazers timeout squared at twenty-two.
The championship game concluded with a solo block from Neickarz, the Blazers unsung hero on the afternoon, to take the third and final set 25-23.
Makenzie Hildebrand was named tournament MVP for his monster hits, play at the net, and enthusiam on the court.
Congratulations to all the hardworking student-athletes who competed all season and represented their schools with the utmost class.