With the worst of their season finally behind them, and the Canada West playoffs looming ahead, UBC went into the weekend against the University of Regina Cougars for their final regular season games of the 2014/15 season.
Last weekend, the T-Birds were tied at eighth and had lost their first game against the University of Calgary Dinos, but bounced back to give themselves a fighting chance for the seventh playoff spot when they won the second night, split the weekend and consequently knocked the Dinos out of playoff position.
"I think that we were under the microscope last week, we were in a must-win situation as we are this weekend and it was good to see us come out and put out consistent effort on Saturday last week, and tonight as well,” said head coach Richard Schick.
The ‘Birds needed a complete weekend shutdown of the Cougars to advance to the playoffs and compete in the Canada West post-season, which they accomplished with ease. UBC took their final games with three quick set wins on both Friday and Saturday night, extending their winning streak to three.
“I was very pleased with the way that we blocked the ball because that’s what we spent a lot of time on in the week working on and I thought our guys really stepped up, and kind of executed what we wanted to do there,” said Schick. ”Regardless of who we're playing, regardless of the size, I think it was good for us.”
Friday’s game was fairly uneventful with the Cougars never passing the 17-point mark, even with the lack of traditional Thunderbird gusto.
A savage smackdown by fourth-year middle Alex Russell finished the first set with a score of 25-16. The Cougars then valiantly attempted to fend off the T-Birds swooping attacks in the second set, but after Chris Howe repelled their attacks repeatedly for two points -- making it 18-13 -- Regina never fully recovered from the rejection. Schmidt then won the ball after a jostle and killed it to give the ‘Birds the second set at 25-17. Regina got out to an early lead, but once again were overtaken by the rapid T-Bird advance. The game ended in a third and final set score of 25-15
The second night saw a more competitive effort from Regina. In the first set, the Cougars threatened to overtake the home team as they got very close -- almost too close -- to set point at 25-21. Two aces from setter Milan Nikic gave the T-Birds a second set head start, and a service error from the Cougars handed the set to the ‘Birds on a platter at 25-15. Regina maintained a lead for a large part of the third set (their longest throughout their visit to the War Memorial) but a six-point surge put UBC squarely ahead. Ben Chow gave his squad back-to-back kills to make it 22-18, and an Alex Russell block finally put the Cougars out of their misery. In the end, the ‘Birds managed to square up all their defences and closed all dangerous gaps effectively.
While celebration of this weekend’s victories might be dampened by the fact that Regina has an overall record of 3-29, it’s important to remember that every set win mattered over this weekend. Wins and losses mattered just as much as overall points, in fact, as most teams in the Canada west were tied for at least one of the remaining playoff spots.
"We knew we had to play well, and that it helped our chances if we won each set, so we really wanted to be focused on playing each point and winning each set tonight," said assistant head coach Matt Lebourdais.
Not only did Saturday’s game signal the Thunderbirds’ push up the tables and into the playoffs, but it also signified the final home game of UBC seniors Chris Howe, Quentin Schmidt and Ian Perry. Schick gave a teary-eyed speech, bidding farewell to the trio who through the years had contributed so much to the team.
"We’re going to miss those guys a lot. All three guys brought a lot, they’ve got three unique personalities, they bring a lot to our group,” said Lebourdais.
The Thunderbirds will be heading off into the playoffs next week and will need to play their absolute best as they will be going head-to-head against some of Canada’s most competitive teams. Hopefully we will get to see more intense Thunderbird volleyball as the ‘Birds move forward.
"We just want to play well. We feel like we’ve played well and we want to get our swagger back,” said Schick.