Aaron Martin/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – After a disastrous end to the fourth set, in which the Brandon Bobcats (0-1) erased a 24-18 deficit, winning 26-24 and forcing a fifth frame, the UBC Thunderbirds men's volleyball team (1-0) appeared to be in trouble on Friday night at War Memorial Gym.
The 'Birds rallied to dominate the final set, forging ahead to a 9-6 lead before reeling off an electric 6-0 run to close the set 15-6, taking the match 3-2 and a 1-0 lead overall in the best-of-three Canada West quarter-final playoff series. Fourth-year outside hitter Irvan Brar was a force to be reckoned with in that last frame, ripping off three kills in the final five points, including the match-sealing strike.
The resiliency shown by his squad is nothing new for UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald, as the 'Birds picked up a Canada West-leading seven wins in five-set games during the regular season.
"It's really about the belief that these guys have in each other," said the coach of his team's ability to thrive in the clutch. "It sounds corny, but that's the way it is. We've been there so many times this season, every guy on that team knows that we have the talent to pull through and get the job done. It's almost routine now."
Final set scores were 25-21, 23-25, 25-22, 24-26, and 15-6.
The 'Birds offense was driven by the phenomenal play of their outside hitters. Brar paced the home side with 21 kills and 16 digs, while Mat Guidi finished with 18 and 12. Cam Fennema also had a solid showing, picking up 11 kills and 13 digs. Byron Keturakis was brilliant, as the setter ended the day with 52 assists and three service aces, two of which came in the game-deciding fifth set.
After each side took a set, the third frame saw the two Canada West foes continue to go back-and-forth. With the 'Birds up 22-18, the Bobcats closed the gap to a single point with a 4-1 run. Roy Ching, who finished the contest with a team-high 15 kills, had two of them in that run.
Guidi and Keturakis put the kibosh on that comeback soon after, with Guidi drilling a kill before Keturakis notched a setter dump to lock down the set 25-22.
The 'Birds pushed Brandon to the brink in the fourth frame, up 24-18, but a terrific serve game allowed Brandon to claw all the way back. With Elliott Viles at the line, his service forced the 'Birds into five attacking errors, also setting up a couple of easy kills for Ching, Mason Metcalf, and Brady Nault.
Viles would complete the 26-24 comeback with an ace, setting up the decisive fifth frame.
"They served incredibly well over that stretch, better than they did at any other point in the game," said MacDonald. "Not only do we have to be aware of that tomorrow, but we need to do a better job of our serve-receive, which should allow us to get our middles more involved in the attack."
The 'Birds will get a shot at the sweep tomorrow evening, as the first serve of Game 2 in the Canada West quarter-finals is set for 7 p.m. (PT) at War Memorial Gym.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wilson Wong/UBC Thunderbirds