Aneesa Heatherington / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER - Fresh off their trip to face the Rainbow Warriors in Hawaii, the UBC Thunderbirds looked rejuvenated at home inside War Memorial Gym in a 3-2 (25-18, 22-25, 25-18, 23-25, 15-12) victory over the MacEwan Griffins.
"I think the time we had together to become a little more cohesive as a group really showed tonight," said UBC Head Coach Mike Hawkins. "The way the bench supported the guys on the floor...how the guys on the floor supported each other...it all comes back to that trip."
Also back on the floor for the T-Birds was 6'8 rookie outside hitter Matt Neaves, who put up a monster 20 kill, 2 ace, 3 block performance in his return to the lineup.
"He beasted tonight," said Hawkins. "For being a young guy and not really having much playing experience up to this point, he made good decisions and took what the defence was allowing him to hit. For the rest of the team - it fueled us. Everyone was jumping on his back and I think he did a really great job."
Coltyn Liu finished with 14 kills, 2 aces and 3 blocks for the 'Birds, while Jordan Deshane and Michael Dowhaniuk each totalled 10 kills. Deshane added 5 blocks, Joel Regehr contributed 3 aces, and Ben Hooker racked up 55 assists in the win.
Jordan Peters and Kai Hesthammer tallied 10 kills apiece for the Griffins, and Max Vriend had 5 blocks to go with 8 kills in the narrow road loss.
MacEwan's Mark Alexander and Caleb Weiss combined for a big block to go up 5-4 early in the first set before Liu responded with his first kill to tie it up. Neaves crushed his first kill with authority to give the home squad a 16-12 edge, his second kill made it 19-15 - and the Thunderbirds never looked back. Captain Regehr gave the 'Birds a set point, and the fifth-year veteran closed it out with an ace - 25-18.
Dowhaniuk cranked a back row kill in the second for a 7-4 edge but the Griffins fought back to tie it up at 12-12. Dowhaniuk responded with his fifth kill but Peters took MacEwan into the technical timeout up 16-14 and Hesthammer maintained the two-point lead with his second kill at 17-15. The visitors kept the 'Birds at bay and Vriend earned the Griffins a set point that he would convert on his sixth kill - 25-22.
Neaves dropped an ace in the third and the two teams were even at 7-7 before Liu rattled off a kill and a blistering ace to make it 9-7. Dowhaniuk stuffed Vriend to put the T-Birds up 14-8 on a Regehr service run and Neaves extended the lead to 16-9 at the technical timeout. Up 24-18, Neaves smoked a back row kill to win it 25-18.
With the fourth set knotted up at 4-4, Peters painted the line with an off-speed tip and started a 3-0 MacEwan run. The Griffins held that three-point edge into the technical timeout before a pair of Liu kills narrowed the deficit and the second-year outside hitter tied it at 18-18. At 23-23, Vriend blocked Neaves for a set point and MacEwan forced a fifth set on yet another block.
Hooker fired an ace to go up 2-1 early in the deciding set and Neaves cranked a kill for a 6-3 advantage. The Griffins clawed back on a T-Bird miscue to tie it at 6-6, but Liu responded on the attack and Neaves fired an ace to make it 8-6. With the final set tied 11-11, Liu flew in from the back row for a thunderous kill and a narrow lead. Hesthammer's serve sailed long to give UBC a match point at 14-12. Zeid Hamadeh entered the game and served up an ace to give the 'Birds their first victory of 2019.
The win drew the 'Birds even with the Griffins in the Canada West standings with one game left in the head-to-head matchup, and coach Hawkins knows there is room to build.
"There are a lot of lessons in understanding what we did to score our points, but more importantly in the sets we lost and how they pushed us in the fifth," said Hawkins. "We'll look at what they were doing tactically that we need to adjust on and with the level of focus in our group, I expected us to come out dialed in on those adjustments."
First serve in the rematch is slated for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at War Memorial Gym.
PHOTO: Rich Lam / UBC Thunderbirds