By Paul Cartledge
EDMONTON – It was a fierce battle between two undefeated teams, but in the end, it was the higher-ranked No.2 UBC Thunderbirds that remain with the unblemished record, claiming the five-set win (20-25, 25-18, 28-26, 22-25, 15-7) over the No.6 University of Alberta Golden Bears, Friday night at Saville Community Sports Centre.
Second in Canada West in terms of average kills per set, sophomore outside hitter Taryq Sani netted a game-high 18 kills in the loss along with 14 digs. Fourth-year outside hitter Alex McMullin recorded 15 kills for Alberta, now sporting a 6-1 record, while fourth-year setter Luke Brisbane notched 48 assists.
Ranked third in average kills per set in the conference, senior left side Irvan Brar fired 16 kills for the victorious Thunderbirds along with one ace and three block assists, fellow fifth-year left side Keith West adding 12 kills, one ace, one solo block, and four block assists. Fourth-year setter Byron Keturakis recorded 44 assists for the UBC squad that improved to 7-0 on the season.
Despite an early 5-2 lead for Alberta, the teams frequently found themselves even on the scoreboard in the opening set until third-year outside hitter Carter McIntyre notched three straight points for the Bears as part of a 5-0 run to break things wide open.
Not long after, five different players for the home team combined on three consecutive and momentous blocks, stopping Brar on each of the attempts and, fittingly, it was his serve attempt that went long to give Alberta the 1-0 set lead.
The Surrey, B.C. native and his teammates refocused for the second set, however, staking out an 11-6 lead that they never relinquished and although Brar hit the net on a late serve to keep the Bears briefly alive, he quickly shut things down with help from the net, his set-ending kill ricocheting off the top to jump over the block and find middle court on the Alberta side.
Momentum ebbed and flowed in the third set, the Bears getting ahead courtesy a 6-1 run only to have UBC pull off a short run of their own to tie things up at 11.
As the score slowly crept up on each side of the scoreboard, equalizing an incredible 18 times in the third set alone, it seemed almost possible that the set would never end as it went into extra points, but a pop-up kill by fourth-year middle Joel Regehr, fooling Alberta into thinking it would land on the UBC side of the floor (it didn't), preceded a Mat Guidi ace that Sani thought was headed long yet caught the corner just beyond his right foot.
The road team used this uncertainty in the hosts' play to build a 10-5 lead to start the fourth set but the U SPORTS silver medalists fought back, using an 11-4 run to take a 16-15 lead at the technical timeout.
Tied at 19, the Alberta defence came up strong with two more big blocks in the next few points to sway the momentum back in favour of the Bears and despite UBC getting to within two, rookie left side Jackson Kennedy drove his set-point kill into the block to bring the match to its final set.
Unfortunately for the home team, the momentum carried into the fifth set was short-lived, UBC earning a three-point lead by the technical timeout. A Fynn McCarthy service error and a Regehr attack error closed the gap to within one, but the Thunderbirds, with the help of five errors by Alberta, scored the last seven points of the match, including Sani's kill that anticlimactically hit the net.
Game two of the weekend series starts at 5:00 p.m. MT on Saturday.