MVB: Thunderbirds turn to playoffs after falling in season finale

MVB: Thunderbirds turn to playoffs after falling in season finale

Aaron Martin / UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER - In their final tune-up ahead of the Canada West playoffs, the no. 2-ranked UBC Thunderbirds came up short in a five-set decision against the Saskatchewan Huskies, falling 3-2 in their final regular season game at War Memorial Gym on Saturday night.

Final set scores were 25-17, 21-25, 25-27, 25-21, and 13-15.

With the Thunderbirds unable to move either up or down in the Canada West standings, locked into the second seed behind the Trinity Western Spartans regardless of Saturday's result, head coach Kerry McDonald admitted that there was less urgency in his team's performance in their finale.

"To be honest, we had nothing to really play for," said McDonald. "And I think we let that lower our desire for this game, and it showed in the results. We tried to celebrate our fifth-years tonight, and I appreciate everything they've done for the program, but as for the game, it was honestly just a tough match to play."

Irvan Brar led the fifth-year charge, as the outside hitter smashed a game-high 17 kills, adding six digs and an ace. Keith West notched eight kills and four aces, while Mat Guidi knocked down eight kills and a team-high nine digs. Ben Chow and Matt Santema both significant floor time, as well.

In a game riddled with errors on both sides, the Thunderbirds' best moments came in the first and fourth frames.

In the opening stanza, UBC was excellent on the attack, racking up a 0.435 hitting percentage en route to a convincing 25-17 win. Their ball movement was on point, while Brar's four kills, Guidi's, and two apiece from West and Jordan Deshane indicated the 'Birds were comfortable spreading around the offense.

Knotted up at 16-16 in the fourth set, after spectacular play from Colin Fraser and Dylan Mortensen had earned the Huskies the second and third frames, the 'Birds got some help from their young guns.

Rookie Coltyn Liu and sophomore Danny Aspenlinder delivered a spark, notching a combined four of the team's final six points in the set, and flashing their considerable upside in the process. The duo was key earning the 'Birds a 25-21 decision and equalizing the contest at 2-2.

"I thought both young guys came on and did a great job," said McDonald. "They spelled our vets, and they basically won that fourth set for us. It was good to see."

Spirited showings from Brar and Liu in the final set weren't enough to overcome the Huskies, as, up 13-12, Daulton Sinoski crushed two kills in the game's final three points to take the decision for the visitors.

Despite the result, even as he was stepping off the court on Saturday night, McDonald was already moving onto bigger concerns.

"We're already done with this one," said McDonald. "No need to dwell on it, as we're already looking to the playoffs and what we can accomplish next week. This week's already behind us."

After the dust settled on the conference playoff race this weekend, the 'Birds landed themselves a Canada West quarterfinals matchup with the Manitoba Bisons (11-13), who earned their way into the big dance with a win over UBC Okanagan on Saturday.

As a part of the best-of-three series, the 'Thunderbirds and Bisons will first square off at 7:00 p.m. PT Thursday, February 22 and at 8:00 p.m. PT on Friday, February 23. The final game, if necessary, will take place at 8:00 p.m. PT on Saturday, February 24. All games will be held at War Memorial Gym.

PHOTO: Bob Frid / UBC Thunderbirds