KELOWNA, BC – The UBC Okanagan Heat took down the University of Regina Cougars in 4 sets on Saturday night at UBC’s Okanagan campus gym (19-25, 25-16, 25-21, 25-21). After tonight’s win the Heat move up to 5-11 for the season, only two games out of a playoff spot, while the Cougars drop to 4-12.
Early on in the first set the Heat were looking strong offensively. For the first point of the match outside hitter Nate Speijer (4th year, Penticton, BC) came up big with a back row kill, and from there the Heat built a quick lead. Ever determined, the Cougars clawed their way back into the set, riding on the five point serving streak of setter Caleb Eschbach (3rd year, Dryden, ON) to take a 19-15 lead on the Heat. Regina took the first set 25-19 after a kill by freshman Andrew Nelson (right side, Regina, SK).
The Heat changed things up in their lineup for the second set, with freshman middle Leigh Goossen (Kelowna, BC) seeing a lot of floor time from then on. Outside hitter Greg Niemantsverdriet (3rd year, Vernon, BC) became instrumental to the Heat offensive effort, pounding a monstrous kill to tie the game back up at 5-5 and adding another kill shortly after to give his team the lead. Nate Speijer and fellow outside hitter Riley McFarland (4th year, Surrey, BC) were also in fine form on the outsides, complimenting UBC Okanagan’s ever strengthening offensive presence on the court. The Heat converted an impressive 45.5% of kills in the second set, accounting for 19 of the points scored in their 25-16 second set win.
“Greg [Niemantsverdriet] has really turned the corner,” observed Heat head coach Greg Poitras. “It’s like night and day where he’s at with his attacking and serving.
“Leigh had a key touch on the block and served tough as well. He did what he needed to do to stay on the court.”
In the third the Cougars pushed back even harder. Caleb Eschbach catalyzed Regina with another serving run, this time four points long. Not to be outdone, Leigh Goossen responded with a serving run of his own, putting the Heat ahead 10-7 before a Cougar timeout. Greg Niemantsverdriet was especially strong this set, getting 8 of his kills in the third set alone. A Cougar serving error gave the Heat the third set 25-21.
Responding to more offensive pressure from Regina, the UBC Okanagan defense kicked it up a notch in the 4th set, with fourth year Brett Uniat (middle, Cochrane, AB) especially effective on the block. Even then, the Cougars managed to fight their way ahead this set, taking a 19-16 lead riding on Andrew Nelson’s serve. The Heat were not to be thwarted as they won 9 of the next 11 points, culminating with an unreturnable Nate Speijer kill to win the fourth set 25-21.
“We had a good team effort tonight with a couple of guys coming off the bench for us,” continued Poitras. “We really served tough and had their setter off the net quite a bit. We like our chances with our defensive block, and we turned a lot of balls over as well on defense. We dug them and scored those points, not just sending free balls over the net.”
Greg Niemantsverdriet led the Heat with a game-high 17 kills and 14 digs, while Nate Speijer pounded 15 kills of his own.
Andrew Nelson led the Cougars in kills with 14, while outside hitter Jamie Wilkins (5th year, Regina, SK) added 12 to the Cougar tally. Freshman Jacques Bourgeaud (libero, Brisbane, Australia) contributed a game-high 15 digs.
The Heat go on the road to play the University of Saskatchewan Huskies at the Physical Activity Complex at 8 p.m. next Friday, and the Cougars head to Edmonton to play the University of Alberta Golden Bears at the Saville Community Centre at 7:30 p.m., all times local.
HEAT NOTES: Playoff picture – the top 7 teams make playoffs with a sets for/sets against ratio used as a tiebreaker. Brandon, UBC, Calgary all have 9 wins. Winnipeg has 7 wins but only 2 games remaining. UBC Okanagan has 5 wins in 4 games left. The Heat are in tough, possibly needing to win all four remaining matches. The schedule sits in their favour, as they play the 11th and 12th place teams over the next two weeks to close out the season: the Saskatchewan Huskies and the TRU WolfPack…According to the RPI index calculated at the website cisblog.ca, the Heat have played the nation’s toughest schedule.