The host University of Alberta Golden Bears will advance to the final of the 2017 U SPORTS FOG Men’s Volleyball Championship, as they defeated the UBC Thunderbirds in a five-set thriller (25-23, 25-15, 20-25, 20-25, 15-11), Saturday night at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
In a game that featured massive momentum swings, a thunderous home crowd, and two of the best teams in U SPORTS men’s volleyball, Saturday’s semifinal will go down as an instant classic. Alberta will now advance to their third national final in four seasons, after winning the U SPORTS championship in 2014 and 2015. This is also the secondconsecutive time the Bears will play in the final as the tournament host, winning the title in 2009 at the University of Alberta’s main gymnasium.
“The last few times we played UBC, they found a way to get our number. They got good performances out of (Matt) Guidi today. I thought their right side was good today, he had great vision. But I thought we did a good job on the rest of their team tonight.”
The Bears will play the winner of the second semifinal, between the No.1 Trinity Western Spartans and No.5 McMaster Mauraders at 6:00 p.m. MST.
UBC, meanwhile, will play for national bronze tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. MST.
“Our guys showed a lot of heart, and a lot of character tonight. Something that our group has done all season, honestly I’m really not surprised,” said UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald after the heartbreaking loss. “I’m just really proud of what they did. Unfortunately the comeback fell a bit short in the fifth. That’s a phenomenal team on the other side of the net. Respect to them, they deserved that win.”
Fifth-year Golden Bears outside hitter Ryan Nickifor finished with a game-high 22 kills, adding eight digs and three block assists, earning the Alberta Player of the Match.
“It’s just one of those matches where you have to come out and swing away. It was a great battle. You can’t back down, you have to be willing to go for every ball,” said the veteran Bear. “I think that was exactly the mentality we had. You don’t want to play not to lose, you want to play to win that kind of game.”
“I thought Ryan stepped up. He hit out of all three zones on the court,” said Alberta head coach Terry Danyluk on Nickifor. “He hung in there on serve receive, I’d like to see his spin serve go off a little bit more, but for the most part he did a lot offensively for us, he carried a lot of the weight.”
Matt Guidi paced the Thunderbirds with 16 kills on 31 attempts, earning UBC’s Player of the Match.
The Golden Bears turned to Nickifor early and often on Saturday, as he spun in six kills in the opening set, and another four in the second. The Golden Bears took an incredibly tight first set 25-23.
In textbook Golden Bears fahion, a large part of their win was based off the play of their middles. Alberta finished the night with five solo blocks and a staggering 24 block assists, while the T-Birds managed just four and four, respectively.
That middle dominance was prevalent in the second, as Alberta completely stuffed the ‘Birds attack with five second-set blocks. UBC’s star hitter, Irvan Brar, who set a tournament-high with 26 kills in their quarter-final win, was held in check in the first two sets, totalling just seven kills on 18 attempts.
UBC got back into the match in the third, taking it 25-20. Based largely off their surging defence, limiting Alberta to just eight kills, as well as four kills from Guidi and two from Brar, UBC took the third.
The fourth was a carbon-copy of the third, as UBC took the set 25-20 again. Nickifor kept the Bears in for a majority of the set, adding six of his 22 kills in the fourth. However, another five combined kills from Guidi and Brar, as well as two from Cam Fennema pushed UBC over the top.
While it seemed that momentum and switched into UBC’s favour, the Golden Bears stormed out the in the fifth with leads of 4-2 and 9-6. A 5-2 run late gave Alberta compete control, with a Brar attack error sealing the 15-11 fifth-set win.
The Golden Bears aim for their ninth U SPORTS title tomorrow, with the gold medal match getting underway at 6:00 p.m. MST at the Saville Community Sports Centre.