KELOWNA, BC – Riley McFarland likes playing at home; the outside hitter put down 22 kills against perennial powerhouse the University of Alberta Golden Bears, yet it was not enough as the third ranked team in the nation was able to fend off McFarland and the UBC Okanagan Heat in a four set (23-25, 25-22, 25-1110, 25-20) victory in Kelowna Saturday night.
McFarland, the fourth year outside hitter from Surrey, BC, has home/road split stats that are quite extreme. In six home games McFarland has averaged 4.27 kills per set with a 23.8 attack percentage; he drove down 22 tonight and versus UBC in November he smacked down 25. On the road McFarland is a tamer beast with just 1.86 kills per set at 2.7%.
“Over two days Riley has really held his own on the right side,” commented Heat coach Greg Poitras. “Even when the other team knew where the ball was going he was still able to score. He started cutting the ball tonight and was really difficult to stop.” McFarland led the team in kills on Friday versus Alberta with 12 to go along with his 22 tonight, giving him 34 over the weekend.
UBC Okanagan started out feeding off the momentum of the women’s victory over the No.3 Pandas in the gym just minutes before and took the first set, yet the depth and experience of the Bears helped them regroup and take the next three sets.
“One thing we did tonight was serve tougher,” added Poitras. “We took more risk from the service line and that resulted in more errors. We felt we needed to do that to shake their offense but they stood up to our serves even though we were really bombing them.” The Heat committed 23 service errors tonight; the next highest total for UBC Okanagan was 17 on October 2110th in the Heat’s four set victory versus the Wesmen. They managed five aces or 1.2 per set, just up from their 1.00 ace per set season average.
In the tight four set match right side Mitch Irvine (4th year, Red Deer, AB) led the Bears with 14 kills tonight, followed closely by left side Taylor Hunt (4th year, Brooklin, ON), who hit 10 kills. Setter Jarron Mueller (3rd year, Calgary, AB) helped his team out tremendously from the front lines, putting up 37 assists. Freshman libero Brendan Yao (Burnaby, BC) grabbed a game high 13 digs tonight.
Following McFarland’s outstanding performance with a good night in his own right was outside hitter Greg Niemantsverdriet (3rd year, Vernon, BC). He stepped things up in the absence of his fellow outside hitter Nate Speijer (4th year, Penticton, BC), who is out due to injury; Niemantsverdriet registered 10 kills tonight. Team captain and setter Preston Tucker (5th year, Vernon, BC) helped his team out from both the front and back lines with 34 assists and 7 digs. Freshman setter Jon Russo (Lake Country, BC) had an amazing defensive game, grabbing 8 digs alongside teammate Jeremy Fostvelt (1st year, Surrey, BC), who also grabbed 8 digs.
“It was a pretty intense atmosphere out there with lots of rallies and tough plays but you just have to keep your head in the game,” said Russo. “When you’re in the back row it’s all about reading plays and just being in the right place at the right time and getting the dig. Overall, we played well defensively.”
The Heat fall to 3-11 in conference play, but are still very much in a fight for a playoff spot while the Golden Bears move up to 10-4, inching closer to securing a berth in the playoffs. The Heat host the University of Regina Cougars next Friday at UBC’s Okanagan campus at 8 p.m. The Golden Bears will host the University of Calgary Dinos at 8 p.m. next Friday.