MVB: T-Birds settle for series split on Pride Night

MVB: T-Birds settle for series split on Pride Night

Aneesa Heatherington, UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (2-8) battled but fell short in a tough 3-1 (21-25, 25-21, 25-23, 25-22) tilt with the Saskatchewan Huskies (4-6) on Pride Night at War Memorial Gym Saturday.

"It was a tough one," said UBC head coach Mike Hawkins. "We kind of shot ourselves in the foot. Our 29 attack errors to their 14 is kind of the story of the match. I thought it was a cool environment for us to play in and it's unfortunate we couldn't capitalize."

The Pride Night celebration of inclusion included some stellar dance moves and colourful costumes, as well as tenacity on the court between the Canada West foes. Saskatchewan Head Coach Nathan Bennett appreciated the intensity that ramped up competition between the two teams in a few heated exchanges.

"I think that's great for volleyball," said Bennett, after his team snapped their four-game losing skid. "I'm a little bit more old school than it is now, I know there's a net between us, but having a battle is what this sport is all about. We executed, that was the big thing today. Our serve reception still wasn't where we would like it, but we did a much better job in our block defence and we were in the right spots. I thought the team did great today."

Colin Fraser led the Huskies with 15 kills, Dylan Mortensen put up 10 kills with an ace and three blocks, and Daulton Sinoski totalled a solo block with seven block assists, eight kills and two aces in the victory. Setter CJ Gavlas had 31 assists and six kills.

Michael Dowhaniuk racked up a team-high 15 kills with two aces and six digs for the 'Birds, while Gerard Murray and Coltyn Liu each had 10 kills. Ben Hooker had 48 assists and 11 digs, both team bests.

Nick Mickelberry's early back row kill gave the T-Birds a 5-4 lead that they would maintain to a 16-13 edge in the first set. Dowhaniuk capped off a lengthy rally with his first kill to go up 19-16 and closed out the first set with a crafty tip off the block.

Sinoski served the Huskies to a 3-0 advantage in the second before smacking his third kill and blocking Mickelberry for a 9-6 edge. Murray and Mickelberry then came up with a big block on Mortensen for a 14-13 edge, but the Huskies kept pace and earned their biggest lead of the set at 21-17. UBC faced a slew of set points after a Gavlas kill made it 24-19 and the Huskies eventually took the second set on a T-Bird error.

Saskatchewan came out firing in the third set until one of Jordan Deshane's eight kills tied it up at 7-7. Mortensen cranked a kill to break the 16-16 tie as tensions rose in the tightly contested set. With the score even at 21-21, Fraser ripped two kills and a Sinoski block gave Saskatchewan a set point at 24-22. Sinoski converted with his fifth kill to take the third set 25-23.

Murray dropped an ace to open the fourth set for the T-Birds before Mickelberry punctuated a thrilling rally with his seventh kill to go up 6-5. Murray knotted it up at 15-15 and Dowhaniuk put the home team up 16-15 at the technical timeout.

UBC held their one-point lead at 19-18 but that's where things started to slip away. Fraser had two consecutive kills to lift the Huskies to a 20-19 lead. A huge Aidan Saladana solo block gave the visitors even more momentum at 22-19, before Sinoski and Mortensen combined on a block on the next play. A UBC attacking error gave Saskatchewan their first match point at 24-19, capping off a 6-0 run. The Thunderbirds cut the lead to 24-22 but Mortensen would close out the proceedings with his 10th kill of the night to clinch the set and the match.

The Huskies are back on home court to host UBC Okanagan next weekend, while UBC will travel to Calgary for their final series of 2018 against Mt. Royal on November 30 and December 1.

"Going into Mt. Royal next weekend we have to understand how to manage the ball a little bit better," said Hawkins. "They're a veteran team who had a tough loss tonight, but they've been playing well. They'll put you in trouble if you give them a lot of free points, so we need to clean things up on our end."

PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds