Laval to compete in national final after win over Manitoba

Karl De Grandpré spikes a ball in Laval's 3-1 semifinal win over Manitoba.
Karl De Grandpré spikes a ball in Laval's 3-1 semifinal win over Manitoba.
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The Laval Rouge et Or were just waiting for their best player to show up on Saturday night.

The Quebec conference champions looked like they were in trouble after dropping the first set of their men’s volleyball national semifinal 25-15 to the second-seeded Manitoba Bisons.

But three-time Quebec Player of the Year Karl De Grandpré — who only posted three first-set kills — put the team on his back, recording 25 kills en route to a 3-1 victory. With the win, the Rouge et Or are back in the national final for the first time since 2009.

After a lacklustre first set, De Grandpré recorded four kills in the second set, 10 in the third set and nine in the fourth set.

“The first sets were not how I wanted to play,” De Grandpré said after the game. “But I talked to [setter Justin Boudreault] … after that we connected and it was perfect.”

Rouge et Or coach Pascal Clément said De Grandpré is almost unstoppable when he gets into a rhythm.

“When he’s on, he’s on,” Clément said. “And the setter knows when he’s on … it’s wonderful to watch.”

Although De Grandpre posted the second-highest kill count of the tournament so far, he wasn’t a one-man show — Quebec Rookie of the Year Tommy Bélisle was named Player of the Game after scoring 18 kills.

“Tommy Bélisle pushed the machine to the limit and I’m very pleased for him,” Clément said, adding that Bélisle has been battling injuries all season.

De Grandpré and Bélisle combined for 43 kills on Saturday night — the highest one-two punch so far in the tournament.

“I’m very happy to see them play in the Red and Gold colours,” Clément said. “I would hate to play against them.”

In October, Laval lost three straight exhibition games to Manitoba in Quebec City. But Clément said those losses helped his team figure out how to compete with the country’s top teams.

“We’ve built the system since then,” he said. “Manitoba helped us to make our team better because they pushed us.”

In the first set, Manitoba’s big men were crowding the net, blocking Laval’s shooting lanes and forcing mistakes. Clément said he altered the Rouge et Or’s serve-and-receive system after the Bisons’ strong start.

Bisons head coach Garth Pischke said his team came ready to play, but simply couldn’t contain De Grandpré.

“We didn’t have an answer for him,” he said. “Maybe our success in the beginning in stopping them forced them to go to him … He just took over after that.”

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