Aneesa Heatherington/UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – It took four sets for the UBC Thunderbirds (2-7) to earn their second win of the season, a gritty 3-1 (25-15, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23) victory Friday night over the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies (3-6) at War Memorial Gym.
"I think it's a testament to the work we put in on our bye week," said UBC head coach Mike Hawkins after his second victory at the helm. "We've really been stressing a higher competition level in practice – I thought the guys answered throughout training and it showed tonight. Kudos to Saskatchewan for coming back in that third set, they earned it, they played better than we did. I said to our coaches after the win that the fourth set was a gut-check. We really dug into our competition level and I think that's why we pulled away."
Coltyn Liu put up a match-best 17 kills for the 'Birds with 10 digs and a block for UBC. Nick Mickelberry added 14 kills with six digs, and setter Ben Hooker recorded 42 assists, seven digs and a pair of service aces.
Dylan Mortensen led the Huskies with 12 kills, while Colin Fraser contributed seven kills and two aces in the loss. Setter CJ Gavlas had 26 assists, a solo block and five block assists.
"We had a little bit more intensity in the first couple sets," said Saskatchewan head coach Nathan Bennett. "We weren't too surprised by UBC's game...they're a good team with good players. We knew what was coming, but at the end of the day if you don't execute against any team in any sport in any league you're probably going to come out on the poor end of it, and that's what happened tonight."
UBC got off to a quick start in the opening set with Michael Dowhaniuk picking up three of his eight kills on the night and an ace in a tidy 25-15 win.
The Huskies put up 10 kills and a .389 hitting percentage in the second set as Mortensen smacked his first five kills of the match with just three errors. UBC took at 16-14 lead into the technical timeout but Saskatchewan won the next three points, capped off by a Daulton Sinoski ace to go ahead. However, the home side went up 20-18 with Jordan Deshane and Dowhaniuk combining on a block and Danny Aspenlieder serving up an ace.
A late 3-0 run by the T-Birds allowed them to take a 24-20 advantage, which they wouldn't relinquish for a 25-22 win.
In the third, Saskatchewan and UBC split the first 24 points evenly, before the Huskies ramped up the pressure with a 6-1 surge that included a pair of Fraser kills, a couple of combination blocks, and an ace from Aidan Saladana. Mortensen recorded the final two kills for Saskatchewan to close out a 25-21 scoreline and extend the match.
The fourth set saw Liu crank another kill to take an early lead, and Mickelberry flew in from the back row to tie it up at 3-3. Gavlas and Mason Scott teamed up for a monster block to help Saskatchewan go up 8-5 before Hooker dropped his two aces for the hosts to keep pace. Fraser's sixth kill gave the visitors a brief 13-12 edge before the 'Birds stormed back to a 16-14 advantage at the technical timeout.
The Huskies rallied to take 22-20 on a Mortensen kill, but Liu replied for UBC with three kills in a row. Mortensen came through again for the visitors, but the Huskies' serve sailed long on the next play to give the Thunderbirds a match point that they would ultimately convert on an attack error.
"I always say the road team plays better on the second night," said Hawkins. "But I'm really looking forward to Pride Night tomorrow. I think it's going to be an amazing atmosphere. As a player, and as a coach, those are the games you want to be in with a raucous crowd so I'm looking forward to it.
Special Pride Night festivities get underway at 5 p.m. with the women's match, before the UBC and Saskatchewan men's teams renew acquaintances at 6:30 p.m. in War Memorial Gym.
PHOTO: Wilson Wong/UBC Thunderbirds