Mike Still, Bison Sports
WINNIPEG — In a game where the number of kills were relatively even, it was the Manitoba Bisons' blocking abilities that set them apart as they downed the UBC Okanagan Heat in four sets (25-19, 23-25, 28-16, 25-14) on Friday night at Investors Group Athletic Centre.
Bisons second-year middle Brendan Warren led the way, tying a Canada West record with 16 total blocks, while setter Jack Mandryk had 11. As a team, the Bisons had 39 total blocks, while the Heat had just nine. Outside hitter Max Heppell paved the way for the visitors with 15 kills.
"He's just a phenomenal athlete and he learns all the time on the court," Bisons head coach Garth Pischke said of Warren. "He seems to make the right choices even when there's three or four guys coming at him."
In the first set, Manitoba opened up a six-point lead on multiple occasions — including a 16-10 lead at the technical timeout — and didn't look back, winning it 25-19.
Warren, left side Dustin Spiring and right side Kevin Negus combined for seven kills in a well-rounded display. Warren did more than just crush the ball, however, as he was also stellar at the service line, where he registered an ace for Manitoba's final point. He also had two assisted blocks.
The Heat battled back to within one at 18-17 late in the set, with six combined kills from their dynamic duo of outside hitters Heppell and Brendan Goski, but it wasn't enough as their ten total errors came back to haunt them.
UBCO came out with a vengeance to start the second set, going up by as much as 7-4, thanks again to big kills from Heppell and Goski.
But the Bisons fired back, taking the lead back at 9-8 while also heading into the technical up 16-15. Left side Owen Schwartz was key during that run with a big kill and service ace, while Spiring led all Bisons with four kills. Warren also had four more assisted blocks while Mandryk added three.
The visitors had a response though, taking a 20-17 lead and eventually the set, 25-23 after a service ace from left side Eli Risso. Heppell led all players in kills in the second, with six, while outside hitter Hunter Scott added three.
Manitoba took an early 13-7 lead in the third set, with Schwartz and Negus again playing a big factor. The Heat battled back on the strength of Scott and middle Shawn Zhao's play at the net, but still found themselves down 16-12 after an error from the latter.
Outside hitter Devon Cote, along with Scott, would help keep UBCO in the game though with huge individual efforts, coming back from as much as 24-19 down to tie the contest on multiple occasions. But the Bisons firepower was simply too much, as Negus locked things down late and had eight kills overall as the hosts escaped with the 28-26 set win.
The Bisons erupted to a 16-9 lead at the technical timeout of the fourth set, with team blocking playing a huge role. Warren, Schwartz and Mandryk all got in on the fun, with Warren continuing to put up his own brick wall after the break, factoring in on three straight points for the hosts. He had nine assisted blocks overall.
The Heat fought back, thanks in part to a back-to-back kill/solo block combo from Heppell. They couldn't close the gap by more than seven points however, as Mandryk and Warren continued to have a block party at the net to close out the game.
With the win, Manitoba advances to 5-8, while the Heat fall to 0-15. Both squads are back at it tomorrow at 6:45 p.m.