Thunderbirds narrowly bested by Spartans in Pride Night five-set thriller

Surrounded by the Pride Night crowd at War Memorial Gym on Saturday night, the Thunderbirds men’s volleyball team faced the league-leading Trinity Western Spartans in their home game of the home-and-away series. With an incredible effort from the visitors, the T-Birds failed to extend their winning streak, losing 3-2.

Disappointing but not heartbreaking, as the ’Birds did take home a victory on Friday — besting the Spartans in four sets to give the Lower Mainland rivals their first home loss of 2018.

“It was awesome to have a huge part of our community out here. It was cool to see all the fans be around and proud [of the team],” said UBC team captain Irvan Brar after the game.

Encouraged by the fans, the T-Birds entered into the game with a decent advantage. Moving quickly to a 7-4 lead thanks to a few reception errors from the Spartans and some decisive right-side kills from Fynn McCarthy, the first set fell heavily into the T-Birds’ favour early on. The home side would get to a a 12-6 lead and force the Spartans to call an early time out.

Although reception errors and miscommunication were still present throughout the set, the 'Birds still managed to widen the gap up to nine points. A block from middle Jordan Deshane finished the set off for the Thunderbirds with at 25-16.

The Spartans were coming back hard in the second set, leading by four points at 9-6. Although McCarthy took UBC veteran Mat Guidi’s role on court and was able to provide the team with some consistent back-row attacks, the team still fell short due to a handful of errors. The Spartans showed their strength as the top team in U Sports, displaying an extraordinary effort in digging and team communication which helped them take the set 25-20.

The two teams split the next two frames one apiece. The T-Birds closed out the third frame with a higher hitting percentage at 0.214 and a final score in their favour of 25-20, but they failed to keep their lead through the fourth — losing the set to Trinity at 25-21.

The tension was in the air as the fifth set began. UBC jumped to a four-point lead in the beginning, forcing a timeout early by the Spartans to regroup. The break revived the visitors, who soon caught up in points and reset the score to 10-7 in their favour. At the pivotal moment of the game, a service ace by Deshane kept the T-Birds in the race for the win, tying up the score at 10-10.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep it up. A service error from middle Joel Regehr handed Trinity the opportunity to seize the set — and so they did. The Spartans then ended the game with a hard block over Irvan Bear at 15-13, closing out the match with a 3-2 lead.

“I thought we battled. I just set the ball to [the] guys and I thought they did a good job, and [we] took some risks: sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m really proud of the guys,” setter Byron Keturakis said post-game.

On a brighter note, Keturakis also refreshed the U Sports records for service aces during the game — he is now ranked first in U Sports in service aces per set. McCarthy led the team with 18 kills, followed by Brar with 16 kills.

Up next, the Thunderbirds will host their last regular season games against the Saskatchewan Huskies at War Memorial Gym. Their first match is on Friday, February 16.