Last weekend was arguably the most challenging test of the season for the UBC men's volleyball team — in which they rose to the occasion with a 3-1 win on Friday.
Taking a short trip to Langley, the team met their lower mainland rivals, the Trinity Western University (TWU) Spartans, for a back-to-back game series. It was the first match up between the two local teams this season.
The two teams have a history. Last season, UBC took down the two-time reigning national champions in straight sets to claim their first national title in 35 years. Both teams had some top Canadian talent: TWU's roster included setter Adam Schriemer and outside hitter Eric Loeppky, while UBC was led by setter Byron Keturakis and left side Irvan Brar.
When the two teams first met in the regular season last year, the Thunderbirds were able to grab the first game of the series — it was also the first home loss for the Spartans in 2018. Although the Thunderbirds ended up splitting that weekend with Trinity, they still managed to slow the Spartans regular season momentum.
The rivalry continued in last year's playoffs. Though the two teams didn’t get a chance to face each other in the Canada West playoff run, they obviously met on the national stage. As the two-time reigning U Sports Championship and Canada West Championship, the Spartans were looking forward to their third consecutive national title. We all know the story though: the T-Birds took home the championship.
This year, with a fresh new look and new rosters, things have changed between TWU and UBC. Given the fact that the Thunderbirds were ranked ninth up until the point they faced the Spartans last week, it’s hard to believe that they could compete with the nationally-ranked team.
With their clean execution of the game plan, the T-Birds impressed and stunned by taking down the Spartans in four sets on Friday. It was only the fourth loss for the Spartans in the season so far.
This game also highlighted T-Bird third-year outside hitter Danny Aspenlieder, who led the team with a personal season best of 11 kills. Fourth-year Jordan Deshane also had a great night; as a middle, he contributed eight kills and five blocks.
Different from their previous wins, the court saw some absences in the lineup: Ben Hooker and Micheal Dowhaniuk didn't feature in the weekend at all.
When facing a tough opponent like the Spartans, previous experience definitely comes to play; the depth of the background UBC has against Trinity can help with the game plan. On the other hand, the Friday night game showed an incredible depth for the Thunderbirds, who are finally finding their stride after a fair amount of turnover since last year. Although the 'Birds didn’t get to extend their winning streak the following day, the potential lying in their abilities is bright and prominent — and, evidently, something that can shock even one of the nation's greats.
The T-Birds are heading into a bye week this weekend. Next week, they face the University of Winnipeg at home in War Memorial Gym.