Stu Walters / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds advanced to next week's U SPORTS Men's Volleyball Championship in Hamilton, Ontario thanks to a 3-1 victory (25-17, 28-26, 20-25, 25-20) in the bronze medal game at War Memorial Gym on Friday night.
Fifth-year left side Keith West earned the UBC player of the game after finishing with a game high 18 kills to go along with eight digs. Also standing out for the 'Birds was Irvan Brar with 11 kills, seven digs and two aces while Fynn McCarthy delivered 10 kills and 10 digs. Joel Regehr added seven kills and Jordan Deshane chipped in with four while Byron Keturakis had five kills, nine digs, two aces and a game high 48 assists.
For the Wesmen fifth-year outside David Bommersbach was recognized as the player of the game thanks to his team high 15 kills to go along with five digs and one ace. Daniel Thiessen added 10 kills and four digs while Adrian Dyck and Garret Jones counted seven kills each.
The T-Birds claimed the first set 25-17 on the strength of an impressive team hitting percentage of .500 percent compared to just .148 from the Wesmen. West would lead the way for the hosts with a set high six kills and three digs. Many of West's emphatic kills coming at key points, first from the back row to make it 10-7 UBC and causing Winnipeg coach Larry Mckay to call his first timeout. Successive kills from West led to a 16-12 lead at the technical timeout and another kill giving UBC an 18-12 advantage leading to yet another timeout from the visitors. A sneaky setter dump from keturakis would bring it to set point before West would strike again with his sixth kill to secure the opening frame. Keturakis added four kills while Brar had three kills, for the Wesmen it was Bommersbach, Dyck and Thiessen with two kills each.
The second set was a wild back and forth affair which saw West keep up his dominance with seven more kills which was another set high and led to the Wesmen taking a timeout trailing 12-8. The 'Birds would enjoy at 16-11 lead at the technical timeout thanks to a block from Brar but the Wesmen battled back to tie it at 19-19 thanks to one of Bommersbach's three kills in the set which caused UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald to call his second timeout of the set. It would be a chess match the rest of the way with the T-Birds sitting on set points on three separate occasions, the final after a West kill made it 27-26 before Jordan Deshane finished it off in style with a service ace and a 28-26 win.
The Wesmen's efficiency saw dramatic improvement in the third set as evidence by their .345 team hitting percentage while the 'Birds dipped to .111. For Winnipeg, it was Daniel Thiessen and Adrian Dyck leading by example with five and four kills respectively. A Thiessen kill would give the Wesmen a 23-17 lead, before a UBC serve went long and another kill from Dyck for the deciding 25-20 set point win.
UBC would save their best for last, in what was another great battle pulling out their best team hitting percentage of the night at .600 compared to the Wesmen's .379. Brar would deliver two early aces and two kills while West added another five kills. McCarthy chipped in with four more kills including back to back efforts to give the 'Birds a 24-20 match point lead ahead of Deshane delivering the knockout kill and a 25-20 win. Bommersbach brought six more kills in the fourth set while Thiessen and Jones added three kills each for Winnipeg.
T-Birds player of the game Keith West was extremely pleased with his squads outing that sees them moving on to Nationals.
"I'm extremely proud, we had to play our best when our best matters and tonight our best absolutely mattered," said West. "If we didn't play our best, we might not have moved on and our season would have been over but we decided we're going to give it our all and we played probably one of the best games we've played all year."
West added that he's looking forward to the challenge at next week's championship.
"I haven't been to Nationals since my first year when we hosted at the University of Calgary so I've never actually qualified for a National event so this will be my first time so I'm incredibly excited this is going to be amazing."
Thunderbirds head coach Kerry MacDonald couldn't be happier for his team.
"I'm incredibly proud, we were definitely faced with some adversity in losing back to back home games last weekend, something we haven't done in a long time," said MacDonald. "I think we were really tested tonight as well, I thought Winnipeg did a great job. It's tough to play those matches with that much on the line and I thought our guys showed great composure and executed like we needed to.
MacDonald went on to say that the very close second frame that included three set points for the hosts was a momentum changer.
"Certainly, that could have been the TSN turning point if that had gone the opposite way," MacDonald continued. "Really happy with our composure in that set and our ability to battle back but we had to show it again in the fourth set. Winnipeg did a great job of testing us in three of the four sets tonight."
When it came to looking ahead to next week's Nationals MacDonald became visibly emotional when speaking about some of the veteran presence that helped his team both on and off the court this year.
"I'm so happy, I mean we have a couple of guys that get to go out on a high note," added MacDonald. "Ben Chow came back to play for us this year and he's made us so much better even though he hasn't been on the floor much he's the guy that I really wanted to get to a National Championship, he really deserves it so I'm really happy for that."
While the Wesmen saw their season come to a close the T-Birds will depart for Hamilton, Ontario on Wednesday in advance of the 2018 U SPORTS Men's Volleyball Championship at McMaster University's Burridge Gymnasium Friday March 16 to Sunday March 18.
PHOTO: Rich Lam / UBC Thunderbirds