Vancouver, BC – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s volleyball team host the reigning Canada West and CIS champion University of Alberta Golden Bears in a weekend series of conference action at War Memorial Gymnasium. Friday’s match is set to begin at 8 p.m., while Saturday’s first serve will be at 7 p.m.
The Golden Bears are a perfect 10-0 on the season, meaning that they have not lost a match since February – the final weekend of last year’s regular season when the Thunderbirds visited Edmonton. A Friday night victory then secured the Thunderbirds a second place berth into Canada West playoffs, where their season would ultimately be cut short in quarter-final action. Alberta would go on to win both Canada West and CIS championships, losing only two sets in the process.
The Thunderbirds currently hold the second spot in Canada West, although teams immediately behind have played fewer games. At 8-2, the Thunderbirds have seen success early, as well as losses against teams ranked significantly lower than them.
Middle Chris Howe notes an internal focus of preparation is key to the Thunderbirds success this season.
“It comes down to our mental preparation,” said Howe. “That’s really what separates the top teams, and that’s where we want to be.”
Howe is in his fifth and final year of eligibility this season with the Thunderbirds. The 6-foot-8 middle will graduate with a sociology degree at the culmination of this academic year.
Alberta’s Ryley Barnes has been outstanding to start his fourth season with the Golden Bears. He leads the conference in total kills, having thrice eclipsed the 20-kill mark in a single match through ten games – impressively attacking at an efficiency of 32 per cent on the season. Barnes was a member of the 2012 and 2013 Canadian Junior National Team, where he was a teammate of three current UBC players – Milan Nikic, Alex Russell, and Jarrid Ireland.
Ireland played left-side for Team Canada, after having only played right-side through the entirety of his UBC career. After redshirting last season due to a foot injury, Ireland has been placed on the left-side for the Thunderbirds in his third year of eligibility, where he has found his role once again as a starter.
Mac McNicol has filled the role of starting right-side for UBC, compiling a total of 126 kills through 10 matches this season – good for fifth in the conference.
Defensive systems will be key for the Thunderbirds this weekend, as they will attempt to stymie the surging Alberta offensive attack.
“The main focus is on our block-defense, being able to adjust our system to a pass and throughout the match,” said Howe. “We’re excited for the challenge.”
Both Friday and Saturday’s matches are set to commence with UBC’s War Memorial Gymnasium at 8 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.