Battle between the top two teams in the country

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LANGLEY, British Columbia – In a battle between the top two teams in the country, the No. 1 Trinity Western women’s volleyball team knocked off No. 2 UBC Okanagan in a wild five-setter, winning 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 20-25, 15-10 Friday at the Langley Events Centre.

After the Heat rallied from a set down to force a fifth, the Spartans responded with its most dominant set of the night, opening a 10-4 lead before cruising to a crowd-pleasing five-point win. Hitting .333 as a team, the Spartans closed the match in fine fashion to improve their record to 18-1 in Canada West play and move into sole possession of first place in the conference.

The loss saw the Heat fall to 17-2 on the season. The setback also saw UBCO’s 12-match winning streak come to an end. The last time the Heat suffered a loss was on Oct. 31 against Winnipeg.

“This was a huge win for us,” said Spartans coach Ryan Hofer. “We needed to take advantage of being at home and having the crowd behind us. We have to give the fans full credit for coming out and supporting us and that made a difference. But it was good volleyball tonight. UBCO does a lot of things really well and one of them is their backcourt defense. You have to work really hard to score a point and you have to keep swinging and keep managing the ball well.”

The Spartans were led by the attacking duo of Sophie Carpentier (Ottawa) and Elly Wendel (Caronport, Sask.), who had 18 and 16 kills respectively. Katie Devaney (Port Coquitlam, B.C.) had a team-high six blocks while setter Nikki Cornwall (Coquitlam, B.C.) had 47 assists, 13 digs and four blocks. Libero Mariel Garcia (Winnipeg) had a match-high 17 digs.

For the Heat, it was Megan Festival leading the way with 14 kills, 15 digs and four aces. Katie Wuttunee added 13 kills while Brianna Beamish had 11 kills. Erin Drew had a match-high seven blocks.

As a team, TWU had a 10-9 edge in blocks and a 60-57 advantage in digs. The Heat had 11 aces to TWU’s eight while the Spartans had 19 service errors to UBCO’s 14.

The Heat raced out to a 5-1 lead in the first set and never trailed. The Spartans tallied three consecutive points to make it 5-4, but the visitors controlled the set the rest of the way. After TWU closed to gap to three points, at 24-21, a Heat block finished the set in favour of the visitors. The win marked the first time UBCO has ever taken a set from the Spartans at the LEC in Canada West league play.

In the second set, the Spartans opened a 6-2 lead and looked in control early. However UBCO rallied and took a 16-15 edge at the technical timeout. The Spartans went back up 22-17, only to see the Heat respond and even the set 22-22. However, TWU, who hit .207 in the set, tallied three of the last four points take the set.

The third set looked to be going UBCO’s way early as the visitors took a 15-11 lead before going up 20-16. But with the Heat up 23-20, the Spartans roared back, scoring five straight points to win the set 25-23. Despite 15 service errors through three sets, the Spartans held a 2-1 lead going to the fourth set.

It was all Heat early in the fourth, as UBCO went up 5-0 before extending its lead to 11-4 after a TWU service error. The Spartans closed the gap to three points on four different occasions, but that was as close as they could get. With the Heat up 23-20, a Festival kill and a Spartans error gave UBCO the set and sent the match to a fifth set.

In the fifth set, the Spartans took a 3-1 lead before extending their advantage to 7-3 after a block from Cornwall and Kristin Anton (Prince George, B.C.) and a monster kill from Carpentier. TWU pushed its lead to 10-4 and, from there, rolled to the win. A Carpentier kill finished the set and the match.

“Our team doesn’t give up,” Hofer said, speaking to TWU’s fifth-set response. “They’re not going to back down from a challenge and I give the girls credit for managing their emotions and playing well under pressure.”

The teams will play the rematch Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Langley Events Centre.

Game Notes: Prior to Friday, the Heat was 0-4 against TWU in league play at the LEC…In the week before TWU took over sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the CIS Top 10 this week, the Spartans and Heat were tied for top spot in the country…The Heat was coming off an historic effort last weekend in which it earned a sweep of UBC for the first time in program history…Between the second and third sets of Saturday’s men’s volleyball game, TWU’s Carpentier will cut off her in support of a friend battling with cancer and also to help raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society.

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