Edmonton, AB – The UBC men’s volleyball program has somewhat of a playoff rivalry against the University of Alberta Golden Bears in recent years. In the 2011-2012 season UBC faced off against the Golden Bears in quarterfinal action, only to be swept in the best-of-three series. The following season the Thunderbirds’ championship hopes were once again cut short by Alberta, this time losing in the Canada West bronze-medal game – where only the top three teams advanced to the CIS National Championships.
This years Thunderbirds, fresh off of a quarterfinal road sweep of the University of Manitoba Bisons, will have an opportunity to atone for past grievances, as they will take on the top-ranked Canada West team in the University of Alberta Golden Bears in Canada West semi final action. The two teams will convene within Alberta’s Saville Community Sports Centre for a 5:30p.m. PT start time Friday, February 20.
The Thunderbirds finished the regular season with a record of 13-11, placing them fifth in Canada West standings. The finish gave them a first round series against the fourth-placed Manitoba Bisons. UBC escaped the frozen prairies unscathed, winning consecutive games to advance to the Final Four in Alberta.
Fifth-year left-side Quentin Schmidt had his best performances of the season, and arguably of his career against the Bisons. Tallying a career-high 19 kills in Friday’s five-set victory followed by a 14-kill match through four sets on Saturday, Schmidt was a key component to UBC’s success on the road.
“I was definitely focused heading into the weekend, just knowing that it could’ve been two of my last volleyball games of all time,” said Schmidt, who attacked at an impressive 41% efficiency over the two matches. “I just wanted to go out and play relaxed – I play best that way.”
Schmidt attended school and played at Red Deer College for two years prior to coming to UBC. After seeing consistent playing time through his first two years as a Thunderbird, this season Schmidt saw limited action. Only gaining his first start of the season in the second-to-last regular season weekend series against Calgary, Schmidt has relished the opportunity, and is saving his best volleyball for the end of his career.
“Throughout the year I never tried to get caught up in being frustrated that I wasn’t on the court, it’s just been good that I’ve been able to contribute,” he said. “I just know that we could have any combination of guys out there and we would see some success.”
Following this playoff surge, Schmidt’s time playing post-secondary volleyball will have expired, as his five years of eligibility will be used up.
Fourth-year Alex Russell also had his best performance of the year against the Bisons. In Saturday’s four-set victory, Russell had 14 kills on 17 attempts in the middle for UBC, while being involved in seven Thunderbird blocks.
Members of the current Thunderbird squad saw Canada West Final Four action in the 2012-2013 season – the first time since 2008 that the program had advanced that far.
The Alberta Golden Bears have been no strangers to success in recent years. A regular season record of 21-3 places them atop the Canada West, earning them a bye through quarterfinals and a spot hosting the Final Four. Although their three losses came in the second semester, the Golden Bears still have been quite consistent throughout the season.
Alberta fourth-year left-side Ryley Barnes led the conference in total kills with 376 through the regular season, while setter Brett Walsh’s 1031 assists marks a league record in an ever-lengthening Canada West regular season.
“We have to be confident in knowing that we’re able to block those guys and dig those guys,” said Schmidt. “A lot of it is going to be our preparation. We’re doing a lot of video and situational work to try to play on some tendencies we see in those guys.”
UBC last faced off against the reigning Canada West and CIS champions in November during the regular season, where the visiting Golden Bears were victorious in four and five-set matches.
“We’ve improved a lot in some facets [since November],” said Schmidt. “Our block-defense has gotten back to where it needs to be – our size at the net makes a huge difference in our game and our defensive system.”
Third-year Mac McNicol had a standout regular season in his first year in a prominent starting role on the right-side for the Thunderbirds. Leading the team in kills (296) and total points (344), McNicol was selected to the Canada West Second Team All-Star – the only Thunderbird to be named a conference all-star this season.
“I feel honoured and surprised at the same time,” said McNicol of the accomplishment. “At multiple points in the season there have been guys that have stepped up just as much if not more than I have – it’s too bad that there aren’t more guys on our team [named as all-stars].”
Heading into the match against Alberta, McNicol notes an aura of confidence in the UBC locker room.
“We’re all feeling pretty good, riding the high with this little win streak we have,” he said. “But at the same time we are the underdogs, and we still have a lot of work to do to prove anything and to be successful.”
The winner of Friday’s match will advance to the Canada West finals as well as the CIS National Championships in Saskatoon the following weekend. Only the two Canada West finalists will join the University of Saskatchewan in the championship tournament.
“We’re confident, knowing that we have nothing to lose,” said Schmidt. “It’s not going to help us if we’re worried about anything or we aren’t confident in what we can do, so we’re just putting in hard work in practice to play as well as we can.”
Friday’s match is set to start at 5:30p.m. PT. The winner will advance to the gold medal game at 5:30 pm PT Saturday night, while the loser will play in the bronze medal game at 4:00 pm PT.