Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
The UBC Thunderbirds (0-7) came out with a strong start in their return to War Memorial Gym, but ultimately fell in a narrow 3-1 (24-26, 25-18, 21-25, 23-25) defeat to the Manitoba Bisons (3-2).
"It just seemed like we got anxious, which is pretty characteristic of a young team and a team that is on our heels right now," admitted UBC Head Coach Mike Hawkins. "The message that we're sharing with the guys is in that moment, make sure you externalize and are very present. We've been using the 'what's important now' mantra of just focussing on what you need to do. I think at times we let the situation get the best of us."
Coltyn Liu led the 'Birds with 19 kills and a 0.314 hitting percentage, while second-year setter Ben Hooker made his home court debut with 52 assists and 7 digs. Michael Dowhaniuk came off the bench for 10 kills and 2 aces when standout hitter James Takken fell awkwardly coming down off a block and was unable to return.
With the score even at 12-12 in the first, a massive Danny Aspenlieder block gave the home team a narrow edge that they carried to a 16-15 advantage at the technical timeout. A Takken block put the 'Birds up 18-15, but the Bisons kept pace through to a set point up 24-23. Takken fought off the first set point with his third kill, but smacked a cross-court kill wide to give the Bisons a 26-24 first set win.
Dowhaniuk entered the game in the second for an injured Takken, and promptly tallied two kills and two aces for a 14-6 lead. Dowhaniuk's lengthy service run widened the T-Bird lead to 17-6 and the White Rock native showed off his range with a huge back row kill to make it 19-11. Libero Tyson Smith laid out for a heroic diving dig and Dowhaniuk capped off the rally with his sixth kill. UBC earned a set point on a statement solo block by Dowhaniuk and converted on a Manitoba attack error to take it, 25-18.
"He did a really good job of bringing a spark for us," said Coach Hawkins. "It's easy in that situation to feel very deflated as a team and I think we were fortunate that Mike made big plays right away. He went on that big service run, but he was dynamic from the pipe attack, he was blocking really well and just seemed to make plays all over the place."
Liu and Joel Regehr combined for a block to tie it at 6-6 and Liu's twelfth kill put the Thunderbirds up one at 8-7. Manitoba continued to trade blows with the 'Birds and led 16-12 at the technical timeout. Dylan Sutherland came up with the block for a 21-16 lead that the visitors maintained for a 25-21 win.
Manitoba jumped out to an early lead in the fourth set, but Nick Mickelberry came off the bench and picked up six authoritative kills - his last made it a two-point deficit, down 21-19. Liu's sixteenth kill brought the 'Birds within one at 21-20 and his seventeenth completed the comeback to tie it at 21-21. The two teams went shot for shot until Dustin Spiring ripped a kill off the UBC block for a set point, and won it on his team-high eighteenth kill at 25-23.
"It was a big win for us," said Bisons Head Coach Garth Pischke. "I thought we would be very even with UBC. I don't think we played our best technical game, because of having a week off, but I thought we played really smart. I thought we really adjusted to some of the things that they were doing...kept our patience, kept our composure and just plugged away. They kept throwing guys on the floor that kept playing great, but I think we gave them some different looks too that helped. Hopefully we can clean up our attack a bit."
As the two teams prepare to do battle again on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (PST), UBC's Coach Hawkins will make a few key tweaks to the game plan.
"There are going to be a few tactical changes for sure. I think as we got anxious, and as the pressure mounted on us we got into autopilot. I don't know if we were making very wise tactical decisions. We can show the guys over video the different situations and how we can attack or defend Manitoba - hopefully that's going to be the difference tomorrow."
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds