Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – On Senior's Night at War Memorial Gym, the UBC Thunderbirds earned a five-set victory (21-25, 25-15, 25-13, 22-25, 18-16) over the Alberta Pandas to sweep their series with U Sports' top team and improve to 18-4 in the Canada West.
Danielle Brisebois, Emily Cicon and Juliana Kaufmanis were recognized for their contributions to the T-Birds in their graduating year.
Head Coach Doug Reimer described Kaufmanis as an incredibly well-rounded athlete and human being. The fifth-year was influential in her time with the T-Birds and closed out the regular season on home court in storybook fashion.
"It felt a little bit surreal to be on the court at 15-15, on your Seniors' Night, against the best team in the league and then be able to pull it out," said Kaufmanis. "I'm so grateful for the experience because it came down to the wire, and could have gone either way. I'm really proud of this group."
Volleyball BC and Volleyball Canada Hall of Famer Sandy Silver was on hand to present Victoria Behie with a scholarship for her efforts.
"I really think this program is one of the superior ones in the country, and it needs financial assistance to maintain and get better," said the former Thunderbirds head coach. "One way I can help, since I can't coach anymore, is to provide some funds and encourage others to donate. That way, this program can continue to attract the best and brightest, and who knows…maybe another championship very soon."
UBC took another step toward their ultimate goal in the upset win, striking 49 kills and 12 service aces while picking up 19 blocks.
Brisebois lead the charge for the 'Birds offensively on 20 kills and chipped in defensively with 11 digs, while Kaufmanis had seven kills and 11 digs. Middle blocker Maggie Li dominated the front line in an 11-block, four-ace and six-kill performance. Backup setter Oliva Furlan had another standout effort in a starting role with a team-high 19 digs and two blocks to go along with 27 assists.
Panda senior Kacey Otto fired 15 kills with 14 blocks, while veteran Meg Casault racked up 12 kills and nine digs in the loss.
The Thunderbirds were ready from the get-go and jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but the Pandas stormed back. With the 'Birds up 12-11, Kaufamanis came up with a huge dig and Li finished it with a block to extend the lead to two. After a scramble save by Finan, Brisebois capped off the lengthy rally with a kill to give UBC a 17-15 edge. Alberta kept pace and held a 20-17 lead after a missed UBC block. Down 23-20, Behie scored on a tip but a Brisebois kill went wide to give the Pandas a set point. Otto converted and Alberta took the first set 25-21.
Li stepped up to serve with her side down 4-3 in the second set, and rattled off two points to take a narrow lead. Kaufmanis cranked her second kill of the match to give UBC a 10-8 advantage that they extended to a 16-12 lead at the technical timeout. Laura MacTaggart put the T-Birds up big with a kill off an Alberta overbump, Li hit an ace and Ciara Hanly earned one of her seven blocks to give the 'Birds a set point at 24-14. Hanly smacked home the winner to win it 25-15.
In the third it was much of the same with little separation between the two sides, until Hanly's run of serves lifted the Thunderbirds to a 15-9 advantage. Another T-Bird block widened the lead to 21-12 and Behie scored the final two points of the set to take it 25-13.
UBC held a 4-1 advantage in the fourth before the Pandas went on a 10-0 run to lead 11-4. It was a game of momentum swings, as the 'Birds battled back to make it a two-point game at 14-12 on a Behie block. Brisebois went on a tear of hits and blocks to propel UBC to a 18-16 advantage. Alberta's Casault served two late aces and the Pandas went up 22-21 before forcing a fifth set with a wild 25-22 victory.
The fifth and deciding set was par for the course as UBC and Alberta went back and forth from start to finish. Alberta earned the first match point up 14-13 but Brisebois showed off her composure with a kill. With a second match point, MacTaggart and Hanly turned away the Panda attack and the marathon continued. Another Alberta match point was erased and the T-Bird front line stood tall to give UBC a match point at 17-16. Kaufmanis smoked a kill to lift the Thunderbirds past Alberta for the series sweep.
Kaufmanis saw their impressive weekend performance as a series to build off.
"It shows us how much focus and prep matters. Danny mentioned yesterday after the game that we've been really preparing and watching video for these matches. Looking forward we can trust the preparation coming into this weekend and knowing that we can apply it in the future."
The Thunderbirds will finish their regular season next weekend in Brandon against the Bobcats with their sights set on a home playoff berth.
Alberta will conclude Canada West play with another road series, next weekend at Calgary.
IMAGE CREDIT: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds