In a sister school rivalry match-up with high stakes — a spot in the Canada West finals — the UBC Thunderbirds and the UBC Okanagan (UBCO) Heat put it all on the line at War Memorial Gym this past weekend.
UBC reigned supreme, taking the first match 3-1 and the second 3-0 to sweep the series.
The women’s volleyball team put on a decisive performance for their fans on Friday. Though they dropped the second set to the UBC Okanagan Heat, UBC would defeat their Lower Mainland rivals in the third and fourth to take the first match 3-1.
For the Thunderbirds, it was the first time they’d faced UBCO since the first weekend of the season back in the fall. Although there may have been a lack of the familiarity with their opponent, the T-Birds still managed to find their rhythm in the first set and keep control throughout much of the game.
In the first frame, the T-Birds were able to put together a dominating offence. Throughout the first 25 points, Kiera Van Ryk led UBC with six kills, followed closely by four kills each from Gabrielle Attieh and Olivia Furlan. Four service errors didn’t stop the T-Birds from finishing out the set ahead 25-17.
However, the Heat came back aggressively in the second, claiming an early 5-1 lead. On the other side of the court, the T-Birds experienced some problems with their services and their connections on offence — resulting in seven errors in the set, though UBCO had their fair share of errors as well.
“I think probably both teams expected [the set] to be a little bit cleaner ... and it just wasn’t,” UBC head coach Doug Reimer said of the shaky start.
Even though UBC did catch up by the middle of the second frame and even took a short lead on their fifteenth point, they still failed to stifle the Heat who put up a 10-1 point run and closed out the set at 25-19.
The T-Birds did a better job at serving in the third set, with two service aces each from Anna Price and Gabrielle Attieh lifting the team momentum and helping UBC to clinch a 12-3 lead. With hard defensive work from the middle and strong blocks at the net, the ’Birds controlled the court. They held at least a four-point lead for the rest of the set, closing it out with a 25-19 lead.
The last set saw the T-Birds continue their clean gameplay. UBC kept their errors at only four, while putting up 15 kills. Collaboratively, the ’Birds ended the game at 25-19.
Post-game, middle blocker Gabrielle Attieh was named player of the game. She made 11 kills, 2 aces and 1 block that night.
“We just think our whole team came out with a lot of energy and drive, not letting balls hit the ground, and going after everything. And with the award I’m thankful for them, but honestly, it’s a team effort,” Attieh said.
That said, Reimer also pointed to several other players who kept UBC one step ahead throughout the match.
“I thought Olivia [Furlan] dug a lot of balls and had some great kills as well. I think Ciara Hanly blocked [well] — so both our middle blockers blocked well ... really did their job."
For the Heat, strong performances for Siobhan Fitzpatrick (nine kills throughout the game) and Michelle Jakszuk (11 kills that night) kept them in the match.
In Saturday’s rematch, the Thunderbirds did one better for the home crowd at War Memorial Gym, taking UBCO down in straight sets.
“I thought we showed great steadiness and we [had] lots of contributions across the board,” UBC head coach Doug Reimer said. “I think as a team coming into playoffs you need that, you need everybody going to beat a team like UBCO two matches straight and to win 3-0 tonight.”
The ’Birds opened the first frame with four straight points, given them a comfortable cushion early on. Throughout the set, both teams had good height at the net and the Heat were working hard to stay in it. Though quick sets from the T-Birds stopped UBCO from setting good blocks, the Heat would tie it up at 14-14. UBC would clamour back into the lead at the end of the frame, and secured a 25-19 set win with a run of four points.
“We were definitely an aggressive force at the net today. We had a game plan today going against them, taking away their key shots at the beginning,” Furlan said of her team’s strategy on the night. “Blocking was huge for us and then swinging. I think we were really seeing the ball well tonight and found a way to hit around their block and really use their block to our advantage.”
The second frame was again opened by UBC, with two good rally points. They would consistently hold the lead throughout the middle due to excellent defensive play led by Sam Patko — on offence, they would get as far as an eight-point lead during the set. Though the Heat were committing more unforced errors, they were able to keep it close until the T-Birds started taking advantage of some fatigue and thus broken plays down the home stretch. An attack error from UBCO’s Erin Drew would cap off their second set, giving up the 25-18 set win.
“I thought Sam Patko, her defence especially against their outside hitters was really solid ...,” Reimer said of his team’s libero. “Blocking wise, Ciara Hanly has been blocking very well.”
The final set was even more straightforward for the Thunderbirds, as they went up 6-1 early and looked dominant in doing so — the Heat were scrambling to keep up. Though the teams traded points through the middle of the set, UBC still held a comfortable five-point lead. With a bit of a regroup in a timeout, UBC took it home with a kill from captain Alessandra Gentile finalizing a 25-17 set score, and a 3-0 match win.
Throughout the weekend, Olivia Furlan was a standout for the T-Birds — making 23 kills through the two evenings of play.
“She has made a ton of big plays...,” Reimer said of Furlan. “For somebody who is a setter — like she is a second year player and a setter who is playing right side — contributing a ton in a lot of areas, she gives opposing coaches fits cause [she’s] just one more element.”
Van Ryk was also key to UBC’s success on Saturday, with 10 kills of her own.
The team now moves on to face the Calgary Dinos in the Canada West final on Friday, March 9 — a one-match winner-takes-all event in Calgary.