by Shannon Pitt (Sports Information Assistant)
February 1, 2014, VANCOUVER (ISN) – The No. 4 UBC Thunderbirds rebounded with a straight sets victory (25-23, 25-21, 25-14) over the No. 8 Saskatchewan Huskies to earn a weekend split and a home-court advantage in the quarter-finals of the Canada West men’s volleyball playoffs.
With the loss, Saskatchewan falls to 10-10 and sees its six-game winning streak come to an end. UBC improves to 14-6 in conference play.
Alex Russell had a team-high 13 kills for UBC while teammates Chris Howe and Ben Chow each tallied 12 kills, with Chow contributing seven in the second set alone.
Milan Nikic not only recorded a game-high 43 assists, but he also managed to surprise the Huskies three times with swift, unexpected attacks off the second hit. In total, UBC’s attacks averaged a 69 per cent success rate; whereas, Saskatchewan managed only 54 per cent.
Paul Thomson led the Huskies with 14 kills, with Jordan Nowakowski and Braden McLean contributing eight and seven, respectively.
UBC head coach Richard Schick felt the team’s success was a direct result of their preparation.
“I think a lot of it has to do with how you prepare to play. They can play volleyball; we can play volleyball. Whoever prepares and readies themselves to play, and play better, will come out on top. They came focused yesterday and we didn’t push back. Tonight, we were prepared,” he said. “I thought we owned the net with 7.5 to 1 [team blocks]. We were pretty efficient, hitting at a very high percentage. I thought every aspect of the game was performed. I think people will remember our team tonight leaving the gym, rather than their team leaving the gym last night. That’s our goal in every gym we go into. We want the team to remember us when we leave.”
The Thunderbirds’ dominance at the net was crucial to their success; UBC recorded 7.5 team blocks, while Saskatchewan only had one.
Alex Russell knocked down four kills during a 6-1 run early in the third set that immediately put the Huskies on their heels. Saskatchewan’s Paul Thomson tried to spark his team by recording a kill and a service ace on successive plays as part of a 3-0 spurt that closed the gap to 11-8 but that was as close as the proceedings in the third set would get. UBC controlled the play the rest of the way, outscoring its opponents 14-6 to finish off the match.
An ace from Emory Wells, two Thomson kills and two UBC errors gave Saskatchewan an early 5-1 lead to start the second set. But the home team was able to fight back, taking a 12-10 lead that would not be relinquished despite the Huskies closing their deficit to just one point twice. A Chow kill for UBC sent the two teams into the technical timeout with the home side ahead 16-13. A few points later, he added an ace to make it 18-14. After the Huskies got to within a point at 19-18, the ‘Birds immediately responded by winning five of the next six plays to make it 24-19. Chow eventually clinched the set with another kill.
The first set was a back-and-forth affair that saw the two teams tied 15 times. UBC trailed 21-19 but reeled off the next three points to jump ahead. Jordan Nowakowski tied the set at 23-23 before Howe and Quentin Schmidt recorded kills to secure the opening set victory.
Russell noticed the difference in the team’s play over the two nights.
“Our passing was definitely better tonight than it was last night,” he said. “Our serving was better as well; I thought we won the game serve and pass, which is what our coaches told us was a problem last night. We brought it today.”
Fifth-year players Parker Jobin and Austin Hinchey were honoured before the game for their dedication and commitment to UBC men’s volleyball. Both players saw the court in the final set and were welcomed to the game with roaring ovations from the Thunderbird fans.
Next weekend, the Thunderbirds will travel to Edmonton to take on the Alberta Golden Bears while the Huskies will host the Mount Royal Cougars.