It was a big weekend for the Lakeland Rustlers men's volleyball team who was in a must-win situation in order to make playoffs. The Rustlers faced the NAIT Ooks, looking for two wins and a spot in the playoffs.
Friday night in Edmonton, the Rustlers lost in 4 sets (26-28, 25-17, 23-25, 11-25) to the Ooks. The teams went back and forth for much of the first set before the Ooks would take it 28-26. In the second, the Rustlers bounced back and showed strong play on both sides of the ball, winning 25-17. The third set was another close battle between the two teams, with the score remaining close for most of the set. In the end, the Ooks would take the set 25-23. NAIT used the momentum from the tight third set win and carried it into the fourth to put an end to the match, defeating the Rustlers 25-11.
The Rustlers were led by third-year outside Alexei Walisser with 13 kills and 6 digs, earning him player of the game. The Rustlers also got strong play from third-year middle Tyler Williamson, who finished with 9 kills and 2 service aces.
Saturday night, the teams were in Lloydminster for game two of the weekend series. The Rustlers started slow with little energy but kept the first set close. Neither team was able to go on a run, and it was a fight to the end that the Rustlers came up on the wrong end of, losing 25-23. In the second, the teams were close once again, but like the first set, the Rustlers ended up on the wrong side of a 25-21 set. The Rustlers looked to extend the match and their season in the third set, with every point being important. The Rustlers were able to take the third set from the Ooks 27-25 and force a fourth set. In the fourth, the Rustlers ran out of gas, dropping the set 25-19 and the match 3-1.
Walisser led the way for the Rustlers once again with 20 kills, 5 digs, and a service ace, while Williamson added 9 kills and a service ace. Third-year liberos Matt Peck and JC Funez helped the Rustlers defensively, with Peck finishing the match with 9 kills and 10 digs, and Funez with 8 digs. Player of the game for the Rustlers was first-year setter, Lane Blight. Blight, who has only played in one-quarter of the Rustlers sets this season, finished with 33 assists and 5 digs.
With the loss, the Rustlers finish the regular season with an 11-13 match record and 40-52 set record, putting them in 5th place in the ACAC North Division. The Rustlers had a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in more than eight years, but unfortunately, went 0-4 in the last four games and finished one spot out of the playoffs. The Rustlers look to build on the strides they made this season and make another playoff push next year.