Kenneth Pittman / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – Behind the support of the raucous Thunder Volleyball Club, the top-ranked UBC's women's volleyball team beat the visiting Brandon Bobcats in a five-set thriller (21-25, 25-19, 25-13, 25-27, 16-14) in the first contest of a weekend doubleheader at War Memorial Gym, Friday
Kiera Van Ryk scored 15 kills to lead UBC (15-2), which hosted a few hundred members, coaches and parents from Thunder Volleyball Friday.
Gabrielle Attieh got 14 kills, and Ciara Hanly had 10 from the middle position. Setter Alessandra Gentile had the most assists (38) and the most digs (15) for the T-Birds on the night.
The Bobcats (7-10) got 12 kills from Nikayla Majewski, and eight from Rayvn Wiebe. Libero Caitlin Le had a team-high 14 digs, while setter Mary Thomson recorded 32 assists.
Michelle Egger served up seven aces Friday to reach 52 on the year, setting a Canada West record for most in a regular season. The previous best was 50, by Iuliia Pakhomenko of Thompson Rivers, spread out over 24 games two seasons ago.
The first set started off as a back-and-forth affair. Both teams with some mishits at the net resulting in free points, allowing neither team to pull away from their opponent. The 'Birds were able to jump out in front due to some strong offensive play by their front line creating a lead of 16-11 at the first technical timeout.
"We needed to close out that set and be a little more consistent, and then we are out of there 3-0 if that happens," said UBC head coach Doug Reimer said about his team's play in the first set.
Three straight service Brandon errors allowed the 'Birds to up 19-14, but the Bobcats called a timeout, and turned things around from there.
Wiebe's service ace capped off a mini 3-0 run. Van Ryk knocked down a kill to give UBC a 20-17 lead, before the visitors rolled off eight of the next nine points to win the set. Kills by Sami Love and Thomson got the Bobcats within one. An ensuing bad set evened the set. Brandon then took the lead on Michelle Egger's ace. UBC replied with a combination block, but Love and Majewski got kills before Love delivered again – this time, an ace – to give Brandon a set point, which was converted on the next play on a T-Birds attack error.
Both teams exhibited strong offensive play as well as some solid defence to begin the second set. The Birds went on a couple mini runs, pulling away from the Bobcats, who were able to fight back from the first, keeping the game tied at 14 points a side.
The second run for the 'Birds was deemed too much for the road team. Up just 19-17, UBC closed out the set by taking six of the last eight points, with Olivia Furlan recording the clinching kill at 25-19.
The 'Birds came out flying in the third set, jumping out to a 9-5 lead. They maintained their strong play in the set taking a lead of 16-7 into the technical timeout. UBC continued to build on that advantage, cruising to an easy third set win with a score of 25-13 with Hanly closing out the set with back-to-back aces.
The Bobcats replied strongly to stay alive in the match.
Both teams exchanged offensive attacks with the Bobcats taking a 12-10 lead to start the fourth set. A Van Ryk ace for the 'Birds tied the set at 20 points a side. An attack error from Brandon gave UBC a match point at 24-23, but a kill from Thomson leveled the score. It was tied again at 25-25, before Majewski knocked down a kill to give the visitors a set point. A UBC attack error then sent the match
to a deciding set.
Fending off that match point in the fourth set seemed crucial for the Bobcats as they jumped out to the early advantage, which in a set up to 15 points is crucial, leading 8-6 when the teams switched sides after a kill from Love.
The second half of this fifth set summarized this whole contest. It was a back-and-forth affair with neither team giving up much room. Majewski made it 9-6 but the hosts fought back to force a
Brandon timeout at 11-11. A thunderous kill by UBC's Attieh gave the 'Birds a big 13-11 lead following another Bobcats timeout.
Brandon regrouped and fought off match two points to make it 14-14. But a service error allowed UBC to ahead 15-14, and Anna Price got the final kill to finally put the match to rest.
"I thought it was good energy, for the Thunder Volleyball kids, I wish we played a little cleaner," Reimer said of the crowd and how his team handled it.
Both teams will be back at it tomorrow in the second matchup of the weekend series at War Memorial Gym, with the first serve scheduled for 5 p.m. PT.
PHOTO: Wilson Wong / UBC Thunderbirds