WVB: Thunderbirds hold off Griffins in a tight four-set victory

WVB: Thunderbirds hold off Griffins in a tight four-set victory

Aneesa Heatherington, UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER – In front of a raucous school-day crowd at War Memorial Gym, the UBC Thunderbirds got back in the win column with a 3-1 (25-21, 28-30, 25-13, 28-26) victory over the MacEwan Griffins to improve to 7-2 on the season.

Despite their strong effort Friday, the Griffins fall to 0-9. Cassidy Kinsella led MacEwan with 15 kills. McKenna Stevenson had 10 kills on just 17 swings, and four block assists in the loss. Lauren Holmes had a team-best 12 digs on the day, while Claire McLoughlin had 20 assists.

The high-energy audience made more noise than the home team has heard all year. 

"It was a different atmosphere that we aren't used to," said Kiera Van Ryk. "Having a lot of kids in here screaming their heads off is a new thing. When you get those big points and they go crazy it's always fun."

UBC head coach Doug Reimer thought school day provided both an advantage and a learning opportunity. 

"I think this a great event for us to do to expose a lot of younger kids to our sport and to women playing at a high level," he said. "Having said that, I think we did not handle the different kind of energy and noise that was there very well. It was a good experience we need to be better at handling."

The Griffins put forward quite the effort, keeping pace with the potent T-Birds in the first set when Kinsella's kill out wide tied it up at 10-10, the two teams traded points all the way to a 15-15 draw at the technical timeout. Van Ryk unloaded down the line on her fifth kill to knot it up at 21-21, before a ball-handing violation gave the T-Birds a 25-21 first set victory. 

MacEwan held a 12-8 lead in the second until Olivia Furlan cracked a cross-court kill and Van Ryk added two more to make it a one-point game. Gentile evened it up at 13-13 with a sneaky tip and the 'Birds took a 16-14 lead into the break. Van Ryk crushed an ace to give the 'Birds and opportunity to close it out, but Kinsella responded with a kill of her own, and neither team gave an inch as the set extended to 28-28. Kate Rozendaal finally snuck a hit through the UBC block to take the second set 30-28. 

The T-Birds jumped out to a 6-1 lead to start the third set and rolled to a 25-13 win. 

MacEwan held a narrow lead for most of the fourth, but the 'Birds stormed back after an Anna Price kill to make it 19-19 and went ahead 24-20 on a Griffin error. The visiting MacEwan squad kept pushing and fought off four set points before another Van Ryk kill gave UBC a match point that they converted on a Attieh kill to take it 28-26. 

Van Ryk centered the attacking core with 14 kills through the first two sets, and finished with 24 on the afternoon. 

"After losing that second set in a tight game, we wanted to show we were the better team in the gym and we wanted to prove that we could make a statement and that's what we did."

Furlan added 10 kills, 12 digs and eight assists, while Gentile racked up 39 assists with 11 digs.

The Griffins out-blocked the 'Birds 9.5 to 5.0, as Holmes helped stuff UBC four times. 

Coach Reimer was quick to give the Griffins credit for an efficient performance, but recognized room for improvement. 

"We were sloppy at times I thought we could have had better control. We didn't do a good enough job taking away things we knew they would bring...on the blocking and defensive side of things. They're a good team, they're just having a little trouble closing things out and its dangerous when you give teams that many opportunities."

The two teams will square off again at War Memorial Gym Saturday evening at 5 p.m. PT.

PHOTO: Rich Lam, UBC Thunderbirds