KELOWNA, BC – Friday night’s match between the University of Alberta Golden Bears and the UBC Okanagan Heat proved to be an action-packed spectacle for all in attendance, keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats. Each of the 3 sets were decided only by a 2 point difference, but ultimately the Golden Bears won in straight sets over the Heat 3-0 (27-25, 26-24, 38-36).
“Definitely one of our most exciting games of the year,” reflected freshman Heat setter Jon Russo (Lake Country, BC). “We were without [Nate Speijer] for the night, but put in a good showing against a top team.” Speijer (4th year, Penticton, BC) was sidelined for Friday’s match with an injury he sustained during last weekend’s matchups.
Both teams came out looking offensively strong early on, but the Golden Bears took a 13-110 lead midway through the first set. A combination of several key digs by outside hitter Riley McFarland (4th year, Surrey, BC) and kills by outside hitters Mark Broome (5th year, Kelowna, BC) and Greg Niemantsverdriet (3rd year, Vernon, BC) brought the Heat right back into the set. Down 24-25, the Heat’s Jon Russo put up a big block to keep the Heat in the first set, but a quick string of points ending with the Golden Bears’ 4th year middle Tristan Aubry (Edmonton, BC) dumping the ball into the Heat court gave the Golden Bears the first set 27-25.
In the second set the Golden Bears again took a lead midway through, this time 8-12. After a Brett Uniat (4th year middle, Cochrane, AB) kill and service ace, momentum changed in the Heat’s favour. Following a Golden Bear attack error and a big block by Broome and McFarland, the score tied back up at 12-12. From there on, there was an exchange of points with no clear leader. Like the first set, the second set was hotly contested, but the Golden Bears took it 26-24 after a kill by left side hitter Taylor Hunt (4th year, Brooklin, ON).
Keeping it consistent, the Golden bears once more got a mid-set lead on the Heat 12-16. Needing to generate more offense fast, the Heat rose to the occasion; a McFarland block & service ace sequence got UBC Okanagan on a roll. After the Heat regained the lead 1110-18, the Golden Bears called a timeout to refocus. Both teams continued to trade points from there to get to 24-24, neither ready to relent their lead for long.
A monster Uniat kill made it 25-24 Heat, but Golden Bear left side hitter Jay Olmstead (3rd year, Edmonton, AB) responded with a big kill of his own to tie it up at 25-25. McFarland became an instrumental part of the Heat offensive effort at this point, creating 4 different set point opportunities as a result of his kills.
“We had a lot of fun battling,” said McFarland. “We’ve been focusing on staying mentally tough in each set after 20 and all the way through.”
Heat head coach Greg Poitras echoed McFarland’s sentiments. “I’m fairly happy with how we stayed in the game mentally for a long period of time.”
In the end however, the Golden Bears outlasted the Heat; the Golden Bears’ Taylor Hunt drove the final nail in the coffin as he delivered the winning kill to give the Golden Bears the third set, 38-36, and the win in straight sets.
Poitras was pleased with his team’s effort. “They made one play better than us each set. I’m glad we pushed the country’s best program to the limit.”
As for Saturday’s gameplan? “The same. Successful running the ball in the middle and serving tougher. They’ll be the same if not tougher tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond.”
Riley McFarland led the Heat with 12 kills, while Greg Niemantsverdriet and Mark Broome added 8 kills. Jeremy Fostvelt and Preston Tucker each put up 10 digs.
Jay Olmstead notched the most kills for the Golden Bears with 15, while Taylor Hunt and Mitch Irvine were not far behind with 14 and 13 respectively. Brendan Yao led in digs with 13, while Irvine chipped in 12 of his own. Olmstead and Hunt each put down a good percentage of their chances, 40 percent for Olmstead and 32.1 for Hunt.
The Heat fall to 3-10, while the Golden Bears improve their record to 110-4. These two teams will rematch on Saturday night at 8 p.m. PST on UBC’s Okanagan campus.
HEAT NOTES: Each set was decided by a two point differential, and all three sets needed more than 25 to secure the win…The 3rd set the teams combined for 74 total points….the Heat had more kills in the 3rd set (22) than the first two sets combined (11,10)….the third set score was only tied three times up to 21, and then the score knotted up 15 times after that…Nate Speijer is day to day with his current injury and hopes to play in Saturday’s match.