VANCOUVER – Despite an energetic start, the UBC Thunderbirds fell in four sets to the host University of Alberta Golden Bears in Canada West Final Four action on Saturday evening. Set scores were 21-25, 25-17, 25-18, and 25-17 in favour of the Golden Bears. As only the top two teams from Canada West Final Four will advance to CIS Men’s Volleyball Championship in Saskatoon next weekend, UBC’s season will end following tomorrow’s bronze medal game.
Right-side Mac McNicol (Calgary), UBC’s lone Canada West All-Star, led the Thunderbirds with eight kills in the match despite not playing in the fourth set. Setter Milan Nikic (Calgary) was named UBC’s player of the match for his team leading 30 assists and eight digs.
Left-side Ryan Nikifor was named Alberta’s player of the match, earning 11 kills and six digs on the evening.
The Thunderbirds came out strong in the first set. Active and vocal both on offence and especially on defence, UBC would gradually build momentum. A 16-14 lead became 20-15 for UBC, and ultimately a 25-21 first set victory. Fourth-year left-side Ben Chow (Surrey, B.C.) led all players with six kills in the set.
An unfortunate occurrence for the Thunderbirds followed the initiation of the second set. After going up for an attempted block, Chow landed awkwardly and was forced to leave the game with a dislocated ankle and would not return. Second-year player Irvan Brar (Surrey, B.C.) would replace Chow on the left-side for the remainder of the match.
Chow’s injury seemed to coincide with the revitalization of Alberta’s confidence, as the Golden Bears would slowly take over the match. UBC never quite recovered, and despite miniature surges at various points, they would succumb in each of the following three sets.
Alberta utilized a 10-3 mid-set run to result in a 25-17 second set victory for the hosts.?
The third set began in similar fashion to the second, with Alberta building on their lead. A six-point service run consisting of five aces by Kevin Proudfoot gave the Golden Bears a commanding 12-6 advantage. Strong play by UBC’s Alex Russell (Surrey, B.C.) in the middle brought the Thunderbirds back into the set, but to no avail. UBC would trail 16-12 at the technical timeout, and pull to within three points at 20-17, but would lose the set 25-18 and go down two sets to one in the best-of-five match.
Much of the same occurred in the fourth and final set of the match. Alberta led 16-10 at the technical timeout, and would close out the game with a 25-17 fourth set victory.
Ultimately the Thunderbirds were out performed in many facets of the game by the reigning CIS champions. Left-side Ryley Barnes, a Canada West First Team All-Star, tallied a game-high 13 of Alberta’s 52 kills in the match. Alberta’s other Canada West All-Star in setter Brett Walsh evenly distributed an effective offence, tallying 40 assists and contributing defensively with a team-high eight digs.
Setter Nikic was chasing the ball the entire night, as UBC’s receivers struggled to match the aggression of the Alberta servers. The Golden Bears had 10 service aces in the match to only one by the Thunderbirds.
The loss effectively ends the Thunderbirds’ season, as only the two Canada West finalists will gain a berth to the national tournament next weekend. The match marks the third time in four years that the Thunderbirds’ season has been cut short by the Golden Bears in Edmonton. In 2012, UBC was defeated in quarter-final action by Alberta, and again the following season in the Canada West bronze medal match where only the top three teams got a berth to nationals.?
?Alberta will once again advance to the Canada West finals to take on the Trinity Western Spartans, attempting to defend their title. Both teams will compete at the 2015 CIS Nationals in Saskatoon next weekend.
The Thunderbirds will play their final game of the season tomorrow afternoon in a bronze medal match against the Brandon University Bobcats. Saturday’s match will begin at 4 p.m. PT at the Saville Community Sports Centre in Edmonton.