Aneesa Heatherington, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds kicked off 2018 by extending their undefeated home streak to seven straight victories at War Memorial Gym with a 3-0 (27-25, 26-24, 25-23) win Friday over the Manitoba Bisons.
With the victory, the T-Birds (11-2) now have sole possession of first place in the Canada West with the Calgary Dinos (10-2) on a bye week. The Bisons fall to 5-8.
Kiera Van Ryk was a force for the hosts, leading the way with 15 kills and 14 digs, both team bests. Olivia Furlan was not far behind, with 13 kills and 13 digs.
Jocelyn Koswin and Allison Alcock both knocked down eight kills to lead Manitoba. Brittany Habing paced the visitors with 24 assists, while Cassie Bujan recorded 18 digs.
Fourth-year UBC libero Sam Patko was itching to resume conference play after the winter break.
"It's exciting to come back. The first term always seems so long because you're just playing and playing, but now the goal of nationals is in mind. It's great to finally put the jerseys on and get out there."
Early errors catalyzed a 8-6 Bisons lead in the first set before Anna Price painted the line with her first kill to make it a one-point game. After a UBC mistake, Koswin recorded two straight kills to put the Bisons up 11-7. The lead was still at four points at 15-11 before the 'Birds tied things up at 15-15. Victoria Behie subbed in to earned three quick kills, but the Bisons kept pace to make it 23-23. Van Ryk gave the 'Birds their third set point that Hanly converted on a block to win the first 27-25.
There wasn't much separating the two teams in the second set - evident in a marathon rally capped off by a Hanly block to make it 9-7, still in favour of the Bisons. Another Hanly block knotted it up at 9-9 and the T-Birds took a 16-14 lead into the technical timeout. Tori Studler dropped an ace for the Bisons to give them a pair of set points, up 24-22, but UBC turned it around and Van Ryk gave the home team a set point of their own. Captain Gentile then stepped up to the line to win it on an ace 26-24.
The third set saw much of the same back-and-forth action. Manitoba went up 6-3 thanks in part to a pair of Josie Abbott kills, before a T-Birds' surge put the home side up 14-10. The teams were at 21-21 before UBC took control and closed out the match 25-23 on an Olivia Furlan kill.
Thunderbird head coach Doug Reimer knew his team would be a bit rusty in their first match of the year. "Players or coaches would just go 'Wow, we didn't need to make that error at that point,' and that was the same for both teams...we were just fortunate" said Reimer. "When we did execute and run a good right side attack - with Olivia [Furlan] - she did a good job, but against Manitoba they were waiting for some errors and we made enough to keep it close."
For UBC, Hanly chipped in with a big six blocks and eight kills. Patko finished with 12 digs, and saw her team turn it on in crucial situations.
"I think in the end we put the balls away when we needed to. We were kind of rocky the whole way through. Tomorrow we're definitely going to have to come back and play our own game. I think we played with them...rather than at our own pace. We came through when we need to, but tomorrow definitely needs to be better."
UBC and Manitoba will renew acquaintances on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. PT.
PHOTO: Bob Frid/UBC Thunderbirds