Strength versus strategy: Bisons bring their A game against ’Birds

Making their return to War Memorial Gym post-holidays, the UBC women’s volleyball team were forced to play a bit of a chess game against the visiting Manitoba Bisons to claim their first win of 2018. Seeming to sway from power to strategic, precision play, the home side would continue to control the Canada West with a straight set win on Friday night — though it was no easy feat.

“As much as we’ve been at it for a bit training wise and scrimmaging, it’s just a different rhythm with the exam break and those kind of things,” UBC head coach Doug Reimer said of moving back to game speed.

Sitting in the middle of the Canada West standings, the visiting Manitoba Bisons had a history of tight scorelines and fifth-set matches, something UBC needed to be weary of though they led the division with a 10-2 record going into the weekday match-up.

Anna Price dives to save a play for UBC,
Anna Price dives to save a play for UBC, Scott Young

The Bisons initially matched UBC, as both teams exchanged blocks at the net. For the ’Birds, power proved a challenging balancing act early on, allowing Manitoba to stay in the first set as plays and serves flew in and out of the visitor’s end. UBC tightened things up late though, moving from hard hits to lofted, strategic tips over the towering Manitoba front row. With a lengthy match point rally, the Thunderbirds would claim the first set 27-25.

The second set started with several rallies as both teams tried to sway the play in their favour. In an effort to take the attacking zone, the ’Birds solidified their blocking and continued to loft the ball over the tall Bisons’ front row. Though not the cleanest set, UBC yet again squeaked out the win at 26-24.

Alessandra Gentile continued her trend of quietly controlling and calming the UBC side down, setting the likes of Kiera Van Ryk and Olivia Furlan up for several of their combined 28 kills in the match. In the second, a tricky dump by the captain through Manitoba’s front row served as a momentum pivot point, swaying the set in UBC’s favour at 11-10.

The third set would be even closer to call. Back-to-back kills from Van Ryk would sway the set in UBC’s favour in the closing points. Though two errant serves from Victoria Behie and Van Ryk would push Manitoba within striking distance, Furlan would seal the Bisons fate with a strong kill for a 25-23 UBC win and a 3-0 match win overall.

T-Bird Olivia Furlan sets up for a dig.
T-Bird Olivia Furlan sets up for a dig. Scott Young

When asked about Friday's match-up, Reimer pointed to some unnecessary errors as one reason the Bisons managed to keep up with the ’Birds through the three sets.

“I thought we did execute and [ran] some good right side attack. Olivia [Furlan], we wanted to get her some volume [and] she did a good job, but really it's against Manitoba I think they’re waiting for [us] to make some errors and we made enough to keep it close.

“On the plus side, it’s still three close sets and we did come out on top of each of those, so as much it had its frustrating moments, it was at the end of day pulling out two point wins [which] is still a good thing.”

As always, the T-Birds have just hours to regroup before facing the Bisons again this evening. Though the overall scoreline shows a domination by the ’Birds, set scores were a different story on Friday night. It’s now a matter of tightening up their game and resetting the chess board for perhaps another close call at War Memorial.