Thunderbirds head into break on a winning note


VANCOUVER – Chris Howe and Alex Russell combined for 17 kills and nine blocks in the middle to lead the UBC Thunderbirds to a four-set road victory over the University of Saskatchewan Huskies in Saskatoon on Saturday night. Set scores were 24-26, 25-20, 26-24, and 29-27 in favour of UBC.
“I thought we showed a lot of toughness tonight,” said Russell. “A couple of sets came down to the wire and we stepped up and finished strong.”
Right-side Mac McNicol led the Thunderbirds with 15 kills on the evening, while left-side Quentin Schmidt followed with 12 kills in his first start of the year.
“[Tonight] we had an ability to focus and realize when the match is on the line,” said Schmidt. “Guys zoned in and came up with big plays when we needed them to.”
UBC’s middles have been a vital component in the Thunderbirds arsenal this season. Howe tallied 10 kills on 15 attempts, while his counterpart Russell tallied seven and earned six blocks.
“We managed our errors better [tonight] in regards to attacking as well as serving, especially at key points,” said Russell.
Russell, in his fourth year with the Thunderbirds, has scored in double digits for six consecutive games.
Left-side Irvan Brar has come on as a key piece of the UBC team in just his second year with the Thunderbirds. After tallying a career high 20 kills on Friday night against Saskatchewan, Brar followed up with 11 kills and a team-leading 13 digs on Saturday night. Both Brar and McNicol are in the top-five of the Canada West kills leaderboard.
Saturday’s match was similar to the night prior, in that the Thunderbirds held a 2-1 sets lead over the Huskies heading into the fourth set. On Friday night, however, the Huskies staved off five match points in the fourth set, and went on to win in a five-set thriller. The Thunderbirds learned from their mistakes down the stretch, and were able to close out Saskatchewan in the fourth set of Saturday’s match.
“We did well to adapt from last night,” said Russell. “It builds confidence – that we can turn around and [perform] if that situation arises again.”
The win marks only the Thunderbirds second in their last seven matches, but it is an important one nonetheless. UBC will hold a record of 10-6 as the first half of the season comes to a close. Saskatchewan’s seven-game winning streak is snapped with the loss, and the Huskies will have an 8-6 record heading into the holidays.
All Canada West teams will break for the month of December before returning to finish the regular season in the new year. UBC will have a bye in the first weekend back from the break, and will host Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) of South Korea for three games (January 7, 9 and 10) at Vancouver’s War Memorial Gymnasium.