In a Saint Patrick’s Day rematch of the Canada West semifinal two weeks ago that saw Alberta knock UBC into the bronze medal game, the luck of the Irish was with the T-Birds Saturday as they defeated the University of Alberta Golden Bears in four sets — 25-17, 25-18, 22-25 and 25-20 — and advanced to the U Sports championship final.
UBC’s service game was on point yesterday, registering 17 aces in their continuing effort to claim their fourth U Sport national championship — and first since 1983.
UBC got ahead early in set one, as back-to-back aces from Byron Keturakis put UBC up 6-1, triggering an early timeout from Alberta. Then, with Alberta libero Jared Schubert needing some medical attention, the teams got a chance to huddle up and Alberta got another chance to regroup down 9-2.
Neither timeout nor huddle had any effect as the Golden Bears continued to flounder. The effort of Alberta's Taryq Sani pulled the set back from blowout territory as his five kills made it 13-9. But, UBC to stretch their lead, finishing the set 25-17.
Back and forth action started set two, until UBC pulled ahead through kills from team captain Irvan Brar. Things tightened back up as they progressed through the middle portion of the set, but UBC managed to maintain a three-point lead, keeping Alberta at arm's length.
UBC pulled away late in the set as the Golden Bears defence began to once again crack. Like in the first frame, the 'Birds extended their lead and closed out the second with a 25-18 lead.
With the Golden Bear’s hopes for a national championship wavering, the team's most complete effort came out in force for set three. Alberta poked and prodded UBC’s defence, exploiting the backcourt through kills. No team maintained a clear edge as the lead swung from UBC to Alberta to UBC back to, finally, Alberta who fought off elimination with a 25-22 win as attacking errors from Keturakis and Brar gave the Golden Bears their final points.
UBC shot out to an early 5-1 lead in the fourth and final set. After an Alberta timeout, UBC continued the pressure going ahead 9-3. The Bears would regroup, clawing their way back to an 11-11 tie. Into the closing stages of the set, things slowed down, the importance of every rally increasing as UBC inched toward their redemption against Alberta.
Ahead 18-16, UBC’s defence became the star of the show as blocks allowed them to extend their lead 21-16. UBC would maintain their comfortable lead as a service error by Alberta's George Hobern gave the Thunderbirds match point. Jordan Deshane would get the final kill for the T-Birds, as the set ended 25-20.
With that, UBC took the match 3-1, sending Alberta down to the bronze medal match while the Thunderbirds get set for a U Sports championship game.
Alberta’s Sani and UBC’s Keturakis were both named players of the match.
The national championship final is now set as UBC will face Canada’s top-ranked team in Trinity Western University on Sunday, March 18, at 1 pm. UBC split their Canada West series with, after a win at Trinity and a loss at UBC on Pride Night. Though the Spartans were ranked first going into the national tournament, with how well the ‘Birds have been playing this weekend, anything is possible.