ACAC Gold for Women's Volleyball

ACAC Gold for Women's Volleyball

The Lakeland College Rustlers defeated the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves in four sets, 25-20, 25-20, 15-25, 25-13 in the gold-medal game at the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) women's volleyball championship at Lakeland College on Saturday evening.

"I don't even know what to say," Rustlers head coach Austin Dyer said following the wild post-game celebration. "With our core group of players we've been talking about once they got to their fourth and fifth years this was what was going to happen. It's happening a year earlier than we thought. They way that we played this weekend was unbelievable. We rolled throughout the whole weekend."

That roll included defeating two teams that were in the national rankings, Briercrest at number 8 and Grande Prairie at number 13.

Rustlers libero Laura Popplestone has been through ups and downs with this team, having lost out on a ACAC gold medal and a national championship in 2013, settling for silver at both levels. There has been a lifetime's worth of emotional roller coaster riders for the Brandon, MB native.

"This feeling is unbelievable," said Popplestone, the tournament MVP. "I'm honoured to get the tournament MVP but that's not me, that's my team. They got us to the final."

And the fifth-year senior is glad she decided to come back for her final year, even though it took her until November to make that decision.

"I'm so happy to come back, but just playing with these girls one last time was the reason I came back," Popplestone said. "This is just icing on the cake. I've been here for five years but this is something (the team) has been trying to accomplish for years before that."

After defeating the Briercrest Clippers in their first match of the eight-team championship, the Rustlers went on to beat the Ambrose Lions in the second round, ending up in the gold-medal game against a north division opponent in the Wolves.

The Rustlers are new at the championship game experience. This was just their second in the team's history. Before winning on Saturday night they were in the penultimate game in the 2012-13 season, losing to the NAIT Ooks in five sets.

The second seed Wolves started out the tournament beating the SAIT Trojans in the first round, then the Red Deer Queens in round two.

The Wolves have had more success in the championship tournament. Since 2010-11, they've won four silver medals and one bronze, with consecutive medals in the last four seasons. The last time they won ACAC gold was in the 2004-05 season.

Their rookie head coach, Sam Tu'ivai, was named the north division's coach of the year. Last year he played for the Rustlers and set a single season kill record.

Megan Koch had 16 kills for the Wolves in the gold medal match, while Rustlers outside Ahnika Kuse was credited with 14 of the team's 39 kills. Shelby Becker chipped in with 19 kills. Koch and Kuse were players of the game for their respective teams.