Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
The UBC Thunderbirds dropped their season opener 3-1 (25-21, 21-25, 25-22, 21-25) to the University of Alberta Golden Bears at War Memorial Gym in front of a raucous home crowd. Michael Dowhaniuk led the T-Birds with 14 kills, while Coltyn Liu and Jordan Deshane each finished with 9 kills. Deshane added a team-high 4 blocks, while Tyson Smith led the way with 9 digs. Second-year setter Zac Johnson put up 38 assists with 2 service aces and 6 digs.
In his first game as interim head coach of the new-look Thunderbirds, Mike Hawkins said his team stuck to the game plan, but still has room to grow. "I think we showed our youth at times with unforced errors but U of A is a good team. They're going to push you if you're not playing your style and I thought they did that better than us today."
Alex McMullin racked up 15 kills to lead the way for the Golden Bears, with 4 digs and 1 service aces. Jackson Kennedy added 11 kills with 5 assists and 3 aces in the victory.
In a tight opening set, Johnson came up with a massive solo block on Alex McMullin to spark the Thunderbird offence, who knotted it up at 11-11 on a Deshane kill. Neaves gave the T-Birds a 21-20 edge on a tricky tip, but the visiting Golden Bears stormed back to take the next four points - and the set 25-21.
The 'Birds responded with an early 6-1 lead in the second set thanks to a Neaves and Deshane block, and rode it through to a 25-21 victory.
Alberta traded blows with the Thunderbirds throughout the third set, but pulled away to earn a set point up 24-15. UBC clawed back with a crucial service run by Regehr to make it 24-22 - but it was too little too late as the Golden Bears took the set 25-22.
After trailing early in the fourth, Deshane tied it up with a block at 8-8 and again with a kill at 10-10. The Golden Bears pulled away in the latter half of the set to close out the match.
Hawkins noted his team's strong serving presence despite the loss, and looks forward to the rematch.
"I think we should have confidence knowing that we can put a lot of pressure on teams with our serve," added Hawkins. "It's a big piece of who we are. We're an aggressive serving team, so if we can be consistent with our service pressure it's tough for opposing teams to get comfortable. We have a lot of depth. There are a lot of guys on our roster who can come in and do a good job, so we know we have confidence in guys coming off the bench. At this time of year it's tough to make changes too early. We still need to see who we are and what we want to do."
The two Canada West teams will renew acquaintances Saturday evening at 6:30 pm inside War Memorial Gym.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds