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Snappin the Streak
Kevin Hildebrand (13 kills, 3 stuff blocks)
Ryan Hamm (2.57 passing avg.)
Josh Friesen (12 kills, 2 stuff blocks)

Freemen snap Rebels 2 year winning streak

“We played our best match of the season tonight,” Freemen coach Jason Peters commented following the game. “Against a team that had not lost in Manitoba in two years we had to be at our best. Our guys played with great spirits and improved consistency, and I am very proud of the effort tonight.”

The bleachers were packed, the gym was buzzing, and a chilling focus and intensity could be seen on the faces of every Freemen athlete as they lined up for their last home game of the season. Providence faced a strong Red River Rebels squad that hadn’t lost in Manitoba in two consecutive years; the same Rebels side that had defeated the Freemen in four sets or less in all four meetings this season. The squads were introduced to the raucous crowd and then took the court to begin what would become arguably the most intense and competitive game played in the Freemen gym this season.

The pace was set early on as the two sides battled ferociously, traded points, and battled for position in the first set. The Freemen held an edge late at 18-17, but the Rebels gained the first two-point advantage of the match at 23-21. The Freemen then battled back to within one, but Rebels freshman Dylan Power managed to sneak a floater overtop of two Freemen blockers for a 25-23 set point.

The two squads then kept it a tight match-up through to the second set where they fought to an early 6-6 deadlock. It was then that the Freemen started to pull away, and behind four consecutive service points from setter Paul Warkentin were able to capture a 13-7 lead. The Freemen then continued to roll as they moved on to 15-9, and 20-11 leads late in the match. With the score at 24-15 the two sides engaged in an exciting rally, but Freemen sophomore Josh Friesen (12 kills, 2 stuff blocks) ended it with a huge block that clinched the set and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The Freemen continued their momentum into the third set as, behind four straight service points from junior Jesse Lofthouse, Providence jumped out to an early 4-0 lead. Freshman Delmer Krahn (15 kills) then lengthened the Freemen lead to five by roofing a helpless Rebels defense off of a rocket hit. However, following a Red River timeout, the Rebels regrouped themselves behind strong play from sophomore Erik Hanson and chipped away at the Freemen lead until they found themselves tied at 17 apiece. The two sides then stayed tight until Freemen freshman Kevin Hildebrand (13 kills, 3 stuff blocks) blew out the Rebels flame with a demoralizing cross-court kill that went right through the middle of the Red River’s defense. The Rebels didn’t get another point in the set, and Friesen got the winning point off of an unreturnable serve as the Freemen took it 25-20

Red River then came out of the gates ablaze in the fourth set as the realization sunk in that their two-year winning streak was now on the line. Rebels 6’7” sophomore Jeff Draper led the way as he was somehow able to find and fire his kills into every Freemen defensive hole available. The Freemen fought back to within one at 15-14, but in the end the Rebels pulled back out ahead and took the set 25-18 off of another explosive Draper kill.

The crowd then rose to their feet and somehow managed to heighten the intensity in an already deafening gym as the two sides came onto the court for the fifth and final set; the Rebels looking to salvage their two-year winning streak, the Freemen hoping to pull off the ultimate underdog victory to close off their home schedule.

Both squads dug deep and started to compete at a new level. The sides exchanged point for point early on, and the crowd sat on edge as the rallies seemed to end more emphatically with each service. Libero Ryan Hamm continued his outstanding defensive performance, setting up teammates with an incredible 2.57 passing average, but the Rebels always seemed to have an answer. The Freemen then found the first two-point advantage of the set behind consecutive blistering kills from freshman Dallen Klassen (15 kills, 7 digs). The intensity and anticipation grew within the building, and even normally stoic coach Jason Peters was off the bench pacing alongside the court enthusiastically. Providence’s Krahn then torpedoed in an untouched kill at the Rebels defense to take a 14-12 lead that prompted a standing ovation from Freemen supporters. Krahn’s hot hand then continued as he smoked a kill off an unsuspecting Rebels defender’s head and out of bounds to break the Red River streak and give the Freemen a five-set match victory (23-25, 25-15, 25-20, 18-25, 15-12).

After weeks of hard work and intense practices coach Peters knew that it was only a matter of time before his squad started to click, and believes they couldn’t have picked a better time or night to start.

“We could all feel that this kind of effort was coming sooner or later,” coach Peters said. “We are even more thrilled that we were able to play like this in front of our home fans. They were awesome tonight as well.”

After his squad’s performance Tuesday night, and its continual improvement over the season, Peters is not only cementing himself as an invaluable coach in the Freemen program, he is also setting his team up for what could be a huge run come time for Nationals. But for now the squad heads back to the gym to prepare for their toughest American competition of the year coming up in early March in the form of the University of Iowa’s Division I tournament.

Article written by Kaiten Critchlow
Pictures by Heidi Martens

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