VANCOUVER — The UBC Thunderbirds fell in a tight five-set match on Saturday night at the hands of the league-leading Alberta Golden Bears.
Set scores were 16-25, 25-23, 17-25, 25-23, 15-11 in favour of Alberta.
“We had opportunities to win tonight,” said UBC libero Ian Perry, who led the Thunderbirds with nine digs in the match. “We played hard.”
UBC right-side Mac McNicol led the Thunderbirds with 17 kills, committing only two errors through five sets. His counterpart on the Alberta side, Kevin Proudfoot, also tallied 17 kills.
UBC looked the aggressor for much of the match, winning the first and third sets in dominant fashion. Ultimately, Alberta performed at key moments in the latter stages of the game, resulting in yet another tick in the win column.
A 7-1 run by Alberta in the early stages of the fifth-and-deciding set was instrumental in clinching the hard-fought victory. Proudfoot knocked down three kills during the run, which put the Golden Bears ahead 7-3 after dropping the opening two points of the set.
An attack error from Proudfoot allowed UBC to close to 11-9 but he recorded the kill on the next play, which was the first of three straight points that gave Alberta a 14-9 advantage. The T-Birds fought off the two ensuing match points but ultimately fell.
“Our focus was to simplify things, to get back to what we know we do well,” said Alberta setter Brett Walsh. “We’re a very strong offensive team, and we’ve been doing a good job at utilizing that.”
Walsh had 44 assists in the game.
The Thunderbirds were able to limit Alberta’s leading left-side in Ryley Barnes through much of the match, do in large to the blocking of UBC’s two middles – Chris Howe and Alex Russell in combination were in on every one of UBC’s 13 blocks. Through three sets Barnes had as many kills as errors, but was able to earn eight kills on efficient attacking in the game’s final and most important two sets. He finished with 15 kills with a 19 per cent attack efficiency.
“Our block defence was much stronger tonight,” said Perry. “We were able to effectively set up our block, and that helped us set up our defence.”
In his fifth and final season with the Thunderbirds, Perry currently sits in second place in the Canada West all-time career digs list with 861 digs – 157 digs behind former UBC standout and current national team member Blair Bann.
The win was Alberta’s 12th on the season in as many games, and their 20th consecutive conference and playoff victory dating back to February of last season. They remain atop both league and nationwide rankings.
McNicol noted an overall positive outlook following the weekend series.
“Obviously it’s still early in the season, and there are things that we need to work out, but we’re ready to fight and compete in this league,” he said. “When we execute what we want to do and we play with confidence, we can take matches over.”
Head coach Richard Schick noted a lack of consistency as a key component of UBC’s two losses on the weekend.
“I thought tonight’s match should have been done in four [sets],” said Schick. “There were some missed sets, missed passes, and missed digs that are just missed plays. There’s time for us to learn those things, but I think we need to recognize them.”
The Thunderbirds are now 8-4 on the season, and will host yet another team atop the Canada West standings in the University of Winnipeg next weekend.