VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds men’s volleyball team is heading to Winnipeg this weekend to for its Canada West quarter-final series against the University of Manitoba Bisons. The Thunderbirds had a record of 13-11 in the regular season, which earned them a fifth seed, while the Bisons’ 14-10 mark left them in fourth.
The Bisons missed the playoffs last year, while the Thunderbirds were eliminated by the Brandon University Bobcats in the quarter-finals. Two years ago, UBC defeated Manitoba in two straight matches in the first round of the playoffs in Vancouver. Both teams are sure to come out hungry to progress towards the championship.
The Thunderbirds have been preparing meticulously for the match-up. Head coach Richard Schick commented that he has noticed real a progression in his team’s quality of play since they last played Manitoba in November.
“We’ve been watching video from those matches, and I’m struck by how far we’ve come this season,” says Schick. “Our consistency regarding team play has improved greatly.”
The Thunderbirds had mixed success against the Bisons when they last faced off. In their first match, UBC earned the sweep with an impressive performance, however they struggled to pull together the following evening and ended up losing 3-1.
Manitoba has several powerhouses on its roster who are sure to be a thorn in the side of the visiting T-Birds. Right-side hitter Devren Dear is ranked second in the conference for kills, with 350 to his name. Ken Rooney has proven himself an asset on both offence and defence, as he boasts the second-highest blocks per set average with 1.29, and has the same rank for hitting percentage at .445. Rooney has been out for the last few games due to injury but is expected to be back in the line-up for playoffs.
The Thunderbirds will counter with a star-studded line-up of their own. With the likes of veterans Chris Howe (ranked third in the conference for blocks per set) and Alex Russell blocking, UBC are ready to shut down Manitoba’s offensive output.
Both Mac McNicol and Ben Chow average more than three kills per set. Setter and playmaker Milan Nikic has been in fine form for the team all season, with the fifth-highest assists per set percentage in the conference at 9.52.
UBC was third in the Canada West in hitting percentage (.282) while Manitoba was eighth (.240). The teams tied for second in total blocks this season, each recording 248 in 24 matches.
“It’ll be a battle, no doubt about that,” says Schick. “We have to play our game and continue to be aggressive. If we stay within ourselves and don’t try to do too many things at once, we’ll be successful.”
The best-of-three quarter-final matches will take place on Friday and Saturday, both at 5 p.m. PT. If necessary, Sunday’s deciding match will take place at 4 p.m. PT. All three games can be streamed live at canadawest.tv.