Thunderbirds breeze past Bobcats, sit in second in Canada West

Coming out strong after their bye last week, the UBC men’s volleyball team completed their sweep of the Brandon Bobcats in only seven sets overall this past weekend.

On Friday, the ’Birds clinched a 3-1 win against the visitors, though all four sets were won by narrow margins. Saturday’s match up was a bit more lopsided in favour of UBC though, as they defeated the Bobcats in straight sets: 25-11, 27-25, 25-22. The second nationally ranked T-Birds extended their winning streak to five straight games.

The Thunderbirds also improved their record to 16-2 in Canada West, while the fourth-ranked Bobcats fell to 12-6.

To put up a strong defensive wall against the sharp attack of the Bobcats, the T-Birds changed their starting line slightly by adding one more middle to the court, solidifying their blocking.

“We’re trying a different look ...,” said UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald, “We’re fortunate we have some depth so we have the ability to do that.”

The new lineup brought new inspiration to the team. The ’Birds entered the game with an encouraging five-point lead at 11-6, with their strong defensive line successfully stopping the attack from Bobcats’ left side Seth Friesen and setting the score to 18-8 in favour of the home team. The Thunderbirds’ serving was also a highlight in the first set, resulting in seven service aces. The T-Birds hard work finished the frame on a high note: beating the visitors by 14 points at 25-11.

The second set didn’t go as smoothly as the first. Initially, the Bobcats kept trading points with the T-Birds and forced the latter to call a timeout at 14-13 to regroup. Brandon’s right side Liam Matheson contributed four out of his eight kills in the game during the set, alongside left side Elliott Viles, who scored three kills for the visitors. Though the T-Birds scored 14 kills, they couldn’t stop the long back-and-forth set as it continued to 24-24. The ’Birds were able to break the tie first and finally ended the frame with a firm service ace from Fynn McCarthy.

Momentum-wise, the third set was more challenging for the ’Birds than those before. The Bobcats were putting a decent amount of pressure on the hosts with a high volume of kills, squandering any chance for the T-Birds to run away with the lead. Both teams entered a head-to-head rally which ran throughout the set. T-Birds’ head coach MacDonald then summoned second-year libero Tyson Smith to improve UBC’s reception. The Bobcats still managed to shoot three kills in a row and forced another Thunderbird timeout.

The stoppage would prove the game changer, as Irvan Brar stepped back onto the court for Smith and added a quick kill to put UBC just one point behind at 20-19. Fifth-year setter Byron Keturakis then clutched three straight service aces to push the T-Birds ahead. With a powerful block from fourth-year middle Joel Regehr, UBC closed out the game at 25-22.

Postgame, MacDonald said that the presence of experienced players made a significant impact on the team’s momentum on Saturday.

“We were really fortunate that we do have a lot of veteran players. Those are players who’ve just been in a lot of different situations, so they’re not rattled as much by the pressure. In fact, they really enjoy playing when there’s a lot on the line,” he said. “That’s definitely a benefit that we have — that sort of veteran leadership within our core.”

Fifth-year left side Keith West was the name to note in the match, as he led the team with 10 kills and an ace. He was followed by Irvan Brar and Fynn McCarthy with six kills and three aces each.

Next week, the T-Birds will travel to Saskatchewan to face the Regina Cougars starting on Friday, February 2.