Dan Khavkin, Cougar Athletics
CALGARY- After having their five-game win streak snapped at the hands of the Winnipeg Wesmen who forced a split last weekend, the fourth-placed nationally ranked Mount Royal University Cougars went back to winning ways to open the final weekend of 2018 conference play against the UBC Thunderbirds on Kenyon Court 3-1 (24-26, 25-18, 25-22, 25-20). MRU improves to an 8-3 record while UBC drops to 2-9.
"I'm pleased with how we grinded," said MRU bench boss Shawn Sky. "Sometimes it's pretty and sometimes it's not, tonight we had to give a full effort. We didn't start the match the way we wanted but it got cleaner as the game went on."
Heading into the weekend, UBC came off two straight splits and are looking to take advantage of an MRU team who dropped a favourable game against Winnipeg.
MRU entered the final weekend of the 2018 portion of the season with the second most kills in Canada West, totalling 500 on the back of veteran Tyler Schmidt entered the contest as the conference leader in total kills with 191 with a 4.90 kill per set average.
While on the defensive side of the net the Cougars also ranked second but in total digs with the help of Jonathan Phillips who leads the conference in total digs with 113 and ranking second in digs per set with 2.90.
UBC came out flying to start the game, forcing MRU to compete to their level and chase them all set long.
Sky commented on the T-Bird effort saying, "UBC are a well coached and talented team. It's the best league in the nation so every set is a battle. Any win is big in the final weekend of the semester is tough."
After going back and forth to start the game and then closing an early three point MRU lead, the T-Birds stole the first match point after pushing back in the latter portion to steal the first set 26-24 on the back of Michael Downhaniuk's team leading five kills for his UBC side.
MRU seemed to get back into a controlling groove, jumping to an 8-3 lead and keeping a grip heading into the second technical timeout with a 16-10 lead. Eight UBC service errors played a major part in the second set that the Cougars put to rest, clinching the second set 25-18 and even the match at 1-1.
UBC however, went back to the gritty style of play, fighting the Cougars point for point before getting a dangerous three point lead late in the set at 20-17.
MRU fought hard and managed to tie the set at 21 and go on to steal the third set 25-22.
The 'Birds made life hard for the Cougars all game long but ultimately fell to a stronger and controlling MRU squad.
In the fourth and final set, the Cougars jumped to an 11-7 lead after battling for each point. UBC fought hard in the middle portion of the set bridging the gap to three being down 18-15 but MRU turned on the heat late to close the game 25-20.
The rubber match is set for 7 p.m. Saturday night back at Kenyon Courts.