Aneesa Heatherington, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - The UBC Thunderbirds dropped their second game of the season to the University of Alberta Golden Bears 3-1 (19-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-20) on a special night that saw a strong contingent of Thunderbird alumni watch the 2018 U SPORTS national championship banner raised in War Memorial Gym.
"I thought the guys came out with really good energy," said UBC head coach Mike Hawkins who felt the boost of support from the pregame festivities. "The gym was just rocking the entire first set. I think we put Alberta on their heels and, to their credit, they answered back the next three sets. At the end we let up and service errors got in our head, but that's going to be a big piece of who we are. We're a tough serving team and we need to have patience early on and understand that there are going to be some misses. These are lessons we need to learn, and we'll get there."
While the T-Birds came up short in their first week of Canada West action, fifth-year veteran and 2018 National Champion Joel Regehr knows his team has more to prove.
"I think this group is capable of a lot," said Regehr. "We didn't show a bunch tonight, we did in spurts, but we gave up some long runs that kind of killed us. There's so much to get better at still. We've got a lot of good, talented young guys and I think they'll be capable of so much."
Regehr ripped his first kill to give the 'Birds an early 7-6 lead and served up two straight aces for a 13-9 advantage. UBC continued to fire on all cylinders as Zec Johnson's back-to-back aces gave the T-Birds a 25-19 first set victory.
Alberta set the tone to start the second and held a 16-12 lead at the technical timeout. Regehr responded with his fourth ace to make it 18-16, but the Golden Bears earned set point on a Coltyn Liu service error at 24-21 before Taryq Sani won it on a kill, 25-22.
The two teams traded service errors to start the third and continued to alternate points until a Jacob Deinum block gave the Golden Bears a 13-11 edge. Alberta continued to apply pressure with a strong attack and maintained the lead through to a 25-19 third set win.
Nick Mickelberry evened up the fourth set at 5-5 and again at 7-7 with his fourth kill of the match. Gerard Murray knotted it up at 10-10 with a thunderous kill and Mickelberry was at it again to make it 12-12. However, Sani's fourteenth kill put the visiting Golden Bears up 21-19 and Jackson Kennedy dropped his third ace for a set point at 24-19 before Deinum won it, 25-20.
"A benefit of our team is that we have depth," added Hawkins who noted the positives of having options throughout the roster. "We have guys who can come off the bench. Gerard Murray did a great job, got a few big blocks and had a nice kill for his first Canada West kill. We know Nick (Mickelberry) is going to be aggressive. Danny Aspenlieder did a good job solidifying our serve-receive. All three guys did a great job in a tough situation."
Liu led the T-Birds with nine kills, while also earning two solo blocks and four digs. Regehr tallied four aces and three kills with four digs of his own.
Sani finished with a match-high 15 kills for the Golden Bears and added two aces, while Kennedy put up eight kills with three aces and six digs in the victory.
UBC is back in action next weekend to take on Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops while the Bears host the Mount Royal Cougars.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds