Annesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - The UBC Thunderbirds (1-7) bumped their slump with a convincing 3-0 (25-15, 25-15, 25-15) victory over the Manitoba Bisons (3-3) to come away with a split at War Memorial Gym. UBC totalled 43 kills with a 0.346 hitting percentage over three sets, and continued their strong serving prowess with 10 aces.
"We made a few tactical changes," said UBC head coach Mike Hawkins following his first win with the T-Birds. "We put a few guys in different positions, and I think they executed very well."
Rookie Winnipeg native Gerard Murray led the 'Birds with five blocks, adding five kills and two aces, while second-year Victoria, B.C. product Nick Mickelberry shone in his starting role and finished with a team-high 12 kills - plus five digs and two blocks. Meanwhile Dustin Spiring led the Bisons with six kills and 7.5 points scored while Jon Laube added two kills and six digs in the losing effort.
"We wanted Nick to be the loaded gun," said Hawkins. "We switched him in different positions to find certain matchups and we know that's his strength. He's going to be a very offensive player and even when he made errors...he knew when to be aggressive."
Mickelberry tied it early for the 'Birds at 7-7 in the first, and three Ben Hooker aces made it 13-9. With a 16-13 lead at the technical timeout, Murray closed out the set with a bang on a solo block to take it 25-15.
"I thought Gerard came in and did a really good job playing against his hometown team," said Hawkins. "He did well to slow them down in the middle."
Murray and Mickelberry combined for a big block at 10-6 UBC in the second set and the home squad maintained their lead throughout the second. Coltyn Liu's fifth kill gave the 'Birds a set point, and Jordan Deshane closed it out at 25-15.
A Liu attack off the block gave the T-Birds a match point at 24-13, and the home team capped off their first home court win in energetic fashion, 25-13. Liu put up nine kills with six digs, Michael Dowhaniuk tallied eight kills with three blocks and libero Tyson Smith was impressive on the defensive end - finishing with 10 digs in the victory.
"It's nice to have this one going into our bye week," admitted Hawkins. "I think it's going to make next week feel a lot better. Then we have Sask coming in a couple weeks and they've been playing well. They're a feisty team and fairly veteran so we know it's going to be just as big a scrap as this weekend was."
UBC will be back in action on November 23 to host the Saskatchewan Huskies for a pair of matches at War Memorial Gym. Manitoba will host Alberta next weekend.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds