No. 1 Spartans knock off Thunderbirds in hard-fought four-setter

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VANCOUVER – In their first game since moving to No. 1 in the U Sports Top 10, the Spartans beat local rival UBC 3-1 (25-16, 16-25, 25-23, 32-30) Friday afternoon at the War Memorial Gym.

 

Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) and Ryan Sclater (Port Coquitlam, B.C.) had 14 kills each to lead the Spartans, who remained perfect after seven Canada West matches. Adam Schriemer (Winnipeg) recorded 40 assists while Carter Bergen (Winnipeg) had a team-high six digs.

 

Irvan Brar led the T-Birds (4-3) with 13 digs, while Cam Fennema had 12. Mat Guidi had a team-best 10 digs along with 11 kills.

 

“We looked great in the first, but got smoked in the second and they looked great,” said Spartans coach Ben Josephson. “Then it tuned into a best-of-three and we won two really greasy sets. We feel a little bit like we stole that, especially the fourth set. They had a couple opportunities to win that set that they made mistakes on. I don’t know that UBC played great either. It was a battle of two teams that were putting each other under pressure and I don’t think either team really handled the pressure well.

 

“We won a few more points in that pressure, which is why we won. Both teams have significantly better performances in them and I’m really looking forward to how we play tomorrow. It’s obvious (UBC coach) Kerry MacDonald has already put his stamp on that team and I’m excited to see what they cook up for tomorrow and I know we’ll give them our best effort.”

 

The two teams play the rematch Saturday at 3 p.m. (PT) at the Langley Events Centre.

 

An undefeated Spartans side controlled the matinee match early, jumping out to a 6-2 lead. An Aaron Boettcher (Surrey, B.C.) ace made it 11-5 before he sent the squads into the technical timeout at 16-9 with a kill.

 

Fennema narrowed the gap at 17-12 with a block, but one of UBC’s 20 serving errors gave possession back to the Spartans and they carried the momentum through to a 25-16 set win.

 

Brar disguised a right-handed kill down the line to give the T-Birds a 2-0 lead early in the second, and UBC extended the lead to 4-0 on blocking errors by the Spartans. Byron Keturakis punctuated a lengthy rally with an unexpected tip to give the ‘Birds a 5-0 lead. The Spartans re-focused and shut down UBC’s attack with a string of massive blocks to pull even at 7-7.

 

Thunderbird libero Tyson Smith came up with a huge dig off his shoulder that Fennema redirected into open space to put the Thunderbirds up 9-8. Keturakis stuffed the Spartans Sclater and Jordan Deshane fired an ace as the ‘Birds pulled ahead 18-12 and closed out the second set on a Deshane kill to take it 25-16.

 

The third set was a back-and-forth battle that saw TWU ahead by as many as six points before UBC finished off a marathon rally to make it a one point game at 20-19. The Spartans, though, claimed four of the next five points, a run capped off by a Boettcher kill. Facing set point down 24-21, Keturakis served to keep the ‘Birds alive, but couldn’t complete the comeback as UBC dropped the set 25-23.

 

In the fourth set, Keturakis smacked a free-ball back down on the Spartans to knot it up at 10-10, and Brar had his own denial to give UBC a 13-11 lead. The Spartans fought back, and had a match point at 24-23, but the T-Birds earned the next point to even the score – and the prolonged the game continued with both sides alternating point for point.

 

UBC had four set points but couldn’t convert. With Trinity Western up 31-30, a Thunderbird defensive miscue on Jacob Kern (Edmonton) aced handed the Spartans a four-set victory.

 

Game Notes: Since 2008, the Spartans are 12-2 against the T-Birds in the regular season and both losses were in five sets…last year, UBC and TWU split their season series, with the T-Birds winning in five on the first night before the Spartans won in three on the second night…Josephson and MacDonald coached with each other with Canada’s youth national team this past summer

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