Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds kept pace with Canada's top team, but fell short in a thrilling 3-1 (25-16, 16-25, 25-23, 32-30) loss to the Trinity Western Spartans at War Memorial Gym in Vancouver.
Eric Loeppky and Ryan Sclater had 14 kills each to lead the Spartans, who remained perfect after seven Canada West matches. Adam Schriemer recorded 40 assists while Carter Bergen 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.
An undefeated Spartans side controlled the matinee match early, jumping out to a 6-2 lead. An Aaron Boettcher ace made it 11-5 before he sent the squads into the technical timeout at 16-9 with a kill. The play before, "Swervin'" Irvan Brar smacked a left-handed kill cross-court to bring UBC to within six at 15-9.
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 No. 1-ranked 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 reflexively 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 game 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 by Aaron 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.
Guidi unloaded on a kill in the fourth to make it a two-point deficit at 5-3, but the T-Birds kept pace and Brar ripped one of his 13 kills on the afternoon to draw even at 6-6.
Keturakis smacked a free-ball back down on the Spartans to once again 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 miscommunication defensively handed the Spartans a four-set victory.
UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald said neither team was at their best.
"It was a tight game right through to the end," he said. "We're not going to get too caught up. We left a couple points out there that we wish we could take back, definitely had an opportunity to win the last set, but we made some great plays to get ourselves into that position."
MacDonald expects more from his team in Game 2 of the home-and-home Saturday afternoon in Langley.
"We're not really changing anything going into tomorrow – we just need to perform better, and we're definitely capable of doing that."
IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds