Thunderbirds lose pivotal match to Calgary in straight sets

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Calgary, AB – The UBC Thunderbirds were defeated in three sets by the University of Calgary Dinos on Saturday evening in Calgary’s Jack Simpson Gymnasium, putting the Dinos (11-12) ahead of the Thunderbirds (10-11) in Canada West standings. Set scores were 28-26, 25-21, 25-23 in favour of Calgary.

Ben Chow and Mac McNicol led the Thunderbirds with eight kills on the evening, while 17 kills from Calgary left-side Keith West led all players.

“We outplayed [Calgary] in many parts of the game, but lost the serving and passing game tonight – that was the most important one for us,” said UBC setter Milan Nikic.

UBC attacked at an efficiency of 37% on the evening – high numbers for a three-set loss – but were aced 10 times by Calgary servers.

“We had fun tonight,” said Calgary fifth-year middle Sean Tuff in a broadcast interview after the match. “When we stay focused on what we have to do on our side, we play really well.”

UBC liberally switched lineups through the duration of the game, with players filling spots they have not seen much of all season. Regular starting setter Milan Nikic began the match on the bench, with typical fifth-year libero Ian Perry filling in the role of starting setter. Irvan Brar would play libero for UBC throughout the match, and lead the Thunderbirds with nine digs.

Thunderbird middles Alex Russell and Chris Howe didn’t have many offensive opportunities in the match, but nonetheless were efficient with their attacks. The duo, both of who are in the top-ten in regards to conference blocks, combined to score on a nine of their 14 attempts on Friday evening.

The first set saw back and forth action between the two teams.  After fighting off the first two set-point opportunities for Calgary, the Thunderbirds could not capitalize on two set-points of their own, and ultimately succumbed 28-26 off a service ace by Calgary’s Brendan Visser.

Being down 7-2 early in the second set, the Thunderbirds found it difficult to respond to Keith West and the Calgary offense. A double-sub of Milan Nikic and Mat Guidi would energize the Thunderbirds to claw to within one point at 20-19, but Calgary would win five of the next seven points as the double sub was reverted and starters in Perry and right-side Jarrid Ireland returned to the floor.

Nikic would start the third.

A strange occurrence followed the initiation of the third set. After four points had been played, it was deemed by the officiating crew that UBC had started the set with an incorrect player (not matching that on the scorecard), and thus the Thunderbirds lost their one point – the score becoming 3-0 in favour of Calgary, which the Dinos would quickly build to an 8-1 lead. Fifth-year Quentin Schmidt started on the left-side for the Thunderbirds in the third set, and earned four consecutive kills to bring UBC back into the match. A vicious solo block by Schmidt would close the gap to just one point at 14-13.

A six-point service run by Schmidt later in the set, consisting of inspired play by Howe in both attacking and blocking would give the Thunderbirds a 21-20 lead – their first lead of the set.

Despite the efforts of Schmidt and Howe, the Dinos would ultimately take the set 25-23, capped by consecutive kills by West.

With the loss the Thunderbirds drop to 10-11, and now sit in the 10th position of conferences standings, where only seven teams make the playoffs. They sit one win behind Mount Royal, Thompson Rivers, and Calgary for this final playoff spot.

Schmidt puts it very simply.

“It’s do or die tomorrow.”

The two teams will meet again tomorrow in yet another important Canada West regular season match with playoff implications. First serve will commence at 5:45p.m. PT within Calgary’s Jack Simpson Gymnasium.