Thunderbirds drop four-set match to rival Spartans


VANCOUVER — The No. 7 UBC Thunderbirds lost in four sets to the No. 3 Trinity Western University Spartans on Friday night in Canada West men’s volleyball action at Vancouver’s War Memorial Gymnasium. Set scores were 26-28, 25-19, 29-27, and 25-19 in favour of the visitors.

UBC’s Mac McNicol led the match with 17 kills on the right side, while middle Chris Howe had 10 kills on 17 attempts along with three solo blocks for the Thunderbirds. “Every loss at this point is a tough one,” said Howe. “There are moments of brilliance in every set, but it comes down to the final score.”

Nicholas Del Bianco and Ryan Sclater had 16 and 15 kills, respectively, for TWU.

“I think we had a couple lulls where we let them take points off us almost freely,” said McNicol. “More than anything that killed the momentum.”

The Thunderbirds came out aggressive and confident to start the match.

Attacking at an efficient 31 per cent, 15 assists by setter Milan Nikic proved to be enough to take the set 28-26.

After the first set, however, was a different story.

In the final three sets the Thunderbirds attacked at under 10 per cent efficiency, committing 23 errors with just 31 kills. The Spartans’ big block along the net made it difficult for UBC’s outsides to garner any momentum on the offensive end. UBC was out-blocked 16-9 in the match, and had 11 service aces against.

My initial thoughts are that we have to overcome some things,” said Nikic. “We’re playing a team that’s probably bigger than any team that we’ve played, but we just have to bear down and focus on the little things.”

Despite being statistically outplayed through much of the game’s latter stages, the Thunderbirds still found themselves with two set points in the third set with the match tied 1-1. Ultimately, the Spartans prevailed to take the set 29-27, winning the final three points on kills from Sclater and Del Bianco, followed by an ace from Sclater.

The visitors went on to win the fourth set decisively, jumping out to 9-3 lead, a six-point margin that ultimately held until the end of the match. “The loss was in the runs today,” said Howe, who is in his fifth and final season with the Thunderbirds. “I feel that we gave Trinity the confidence to push through and finish that fourth set.”

“We have to erase the mistakes from our memory after they happen – sometimes we get caught up in things we do wrong,” said McNicol. “We need to be able to be strong enough and put aside our errors.”

UBC will have another shot at taking on their rivals from across the Fraser River, as the Spartans will once again step foot into War Memorial Gymnasium for a rematch, scheduled for 7 p.m., on Saturday night.

“I think we’re doing some really good things, but we’re just not seeing the rewards in terms of wins,” said Nikic. “We just have to keep at it, and I think that’s going to propel us for the rest of the season.”