Scoops and Digs: Heading into women's volleyball nationals, UBC is facing a familiar foe early

The women's volleyball nationals start this Friday, March 15, in Edmonton — and UBC is in the running.

Though they didn't make the Canada West finals, the Thunderbirds are off on the national title hunt in one of the four Canada West berths this year alongside the Trinity Western Spartans, the Calgary Dinos and tournament hosts the Alberta Golden Bears.

They head to Edmonton sitting in the eighth and final spot, and are thus facing the number-one ranked Trinity Western Spartans in the quarterfinals. On paper, eighth playing first sounds like a tough hill to climb — but UBC has history on its side. Though the T-Birds lagged behind the Spartans in the Canada West table all year, the 'Birds shocked Trinity and the conference in the regular season — winning both games against the league giants. This snapped Trinity’s perfect season and their 14-game winning streak and poses the question: can UBC do it again?

The Thunderbirds are no strangers to the national tournament, this being their 13th straight championship, and head coach Doug Reimer will definitely have the troops prepped. The 'Birds also have star power on their side with the likes of Kiera Van Ryk, who was named Canada West Player of the Year last week and leads the T-Birds with an impressive 481 kills.

When looking at the stats, the 'Birds don't fall too far behind as a whole either.

During the regular season, the two teams were separated by only 22 kills. The Thunderbirds topped Canada West with 247 serving aces while Trinity ranked second with 198. UBC led in points per set as well with 17.9, while Trinity trailed just behind them again with 17.5.

However, the Spartans lead by more than 300 digs in 5 fewer sets, giving them a distinct defensive advantage — something UBC will have to disrupt if they want to upset the number one seed. They will also need to be on the lookout for Trinity's own heavy hitter, Hilary Howe, who leads the Spartans with 301 kills and 379 points overall this year. Trinity also has the added advantage of having perhaps more depth to their lineup, with a more even distribution of kills throughout their roster: Mikaelyn Sych sits on 226 kills, while Savannah Purdy has 202. That's in stark contrast to the T-Birds, whose next closest in kills after Van Ryk are Tessa Davis with 198 and Jayde Robertson with 165.

If the stats say anything, it'll be a close matchup between the Lower Mainland rivals. UBC may have more depth to deal with in the Spartans, while the Spartans face — should she be on her game — a national powerhouse in Van Ryk and a UBC team that knows how to find its star player with ease and is ready to strike should Trinity focus solely on Van Ryk too.

The ’Birds take on the Spartans at 12 p.m. on Friday in the national quarterfinals.