(HALIFAX, N.S.) The Saint Mary’s Huskies punched their ticket to the AUS Championship Final with an unforgettable five set win over the UNB REDS on Saturday night at the Homburg Centre.
The number 1 seed Huskies came into the match-up with an 11-4 record on the season, but had lost both meetings against the number 4 seed REDS (8-6) in the regular season.
Before the match, REDS Kristen Burns (First Team All-Star), Catherine Burns (Second Team All-Star), and Emma Burns (All-Rookie), and Huskies Olivia Bell (First Team All-Star), Megan Bruhm (First Team All-Star), Bethany Smith (First Team All-Star), Jakobie Friesen (Second Team All-Star), and head coach Darren Russell (Coach of the Year), were honoured as AUS award winners.
From the first point, the teams looked to be as evenly matched as it gets. UNB opened up an early lead 14-10 thanks to the strong play of Kristen and Catherine Burns and took a 16-14 advantage into the technical timeout, but the Huskies fought back to tie it up at 20-20. From there, the dynamic duo of First Team All-Star outside hitters Olivia Bell (LaHave, NS) and Megan Bruhm (Hubley, NS) each recorded a pair of kills, and Nada Hamdy (Cairo, Egypt) finished it off with a kill to give the Huskies a 25-22 first set win.
The back-and-forth play continued in the second set, as neither team had more than a two point lead the entire set. Each team had a chance at set point but served long, and Kristen Burns finished it off with a block at the net to give her team a 27-25 second set win, and tie it up at one set a piece.
Saint Mary’s looked to find some momenteum early in the third set, as a pair of Hamdy kills gave them an early 3-0 lead, but UNB quickly restored the back-and-forth pattern of the matchup, and took a 16-15 lead into the technical timeout. Once again, the third set would go to extra points, as both teams had a chance at a set point. It ended up being Huskies setter Jakobie Friesen (Barrie, ON), who would finish it off with a sneaky kill to give the Huskies the 30-28 third set win.
The Huskies got off to a good start in the fourth set, let by some outstanding setter play by Jakobie Friesen, as she fed Bruhm, Bell and Hamdy for several kills to give the Huskies a 12-7 lead. While the REDS fought back to cut the lead to one, a Mariama Syll (Charters Settlement, NB) kill gave the Huskies an 18-14 lead. The REDS then found a spark behind the service of Bailey Lemieux and Catherine Burns, and scored 11 of the next 16 points to take the set, with a pair of kills by Sonya Nielsen giving them the fifth set comeback victory, 25-23.
It was only right that this tight game came down to a fifth set, as both teams were incredibly evenly matched. In the fifth set, Bethany Smith (Moncton, NB) got the Huskies off to an early start with a pair of kills to give the home team a 4-2 lead. But the REDS would score six straight points, led by the service of Isla Olesen, which included a point off a red card shown to Huskies coach Darren Russell. The Huskies called timeout, and the team’s attitude appeared to shift, as they scored seven of the next nine points to take an 11-10 lead. Three straight REDS points capped off by a Kristen Burns kill restored their lead 13-11, and had them two points away from clinching the victory. But the Huskies had other ideas, as the all-star duo of Bell and Smith each picked up kills, and gave the home team a 15-14 advantage. With Megan Bruhm serving match point, a fantastic rally ensued, and the Huskies eventually won the point, winning the set 16-14 and the match 3-2.
Huskies libero Renee Cleveland (Saint-Martin, NS) was named Subway Player of the Game, making incredible hustle plays on defense all night and recording 26 digs.
“After that final point, I just felt relief. We fought so hard, it was a rollercoaster match, and I’m just excited for the finals,” said Cleveland. “Honestly it’s the best team I’ve ever played with. The fight that they have is just incredible and we’re all there to support each other. We all had our ups and downs, but we all had each others backs and I think that’s what got us through.”
Setter Catherine Burns was named Player of the Game for the REDS, leading the team with 46 assists and adding 16 digs.
With the win, the Huskies will host the Dalhousie Tigers in game one of the best-of-three AUS Championship final series, in a rematch of the 2020 final.
Recap: Allan April / SMU Huskies Athletics