WVB: 'Birds cool Heat in semifinal opener

WVB: 'Birds cool Heat in semifinal opener

Aneesa Heatherington, UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds came out firing on home court and beat the UBC Okanagan Heat 3-1 (25-17, 19-25, 25-19, 25-19) to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Canada West semifinal series in Vancouver.

UBC's Kiera Van Ryk smoked a match-high 16 kills Friday at War Memorial Gymnasium, and also had eight digs, a solo block and three block assists. Gabrielle Attieh and Olivia Furlan each had 11 kills. Furlan also had 13 digs and three service aces, both team highs. Setter Alessandra Gentile had 37 assists and five kills.

Michelle Jakszuk recorded 11 kills for the visiting Heat, while Siobhan Fitzpatrick, UBCO's player of the game, had nine and 12 digs. Erin Drew made her presence felt at the net with six block assists, while Natalie Livingston served up three aces.

After being named UBC's player of the game, middle blocker Attieh said she felt a boost from the home court advantage.

"It felt really good, all of us were really excited to host this weekend," Attieh said. "UBCO came out with a lot of energy and so did we. There was a great crowd, so it was awesome."

Powered by their league-leading offence, the 'Birds hit at a monster .424 clip in the first set and finished the match with 54 kills and 52 assists in the Game 1 victory.

Van Ryk gave the 'Birds an early 4-3 edge with her second kill, and came up with a big dig that Furlan deflected for a 10-5 advantage in the first. Aidan Lea brought the Heat to within five on a blistering kill at 18-13, but that was as close as they'd get. Ciara Hanly gave the T-Birds a set point that they converted on a UBCO hitting error to take the first 25-17.

The visiting Heat jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second thanks to a strong service run from Fitzpatick, but Attieh drew the 'Birds within one to make it 8-7. Down 12-10, Patko came up with an outstanding save as she went flying into the baseline pads to keep the play alive. The Thunderbirds eventually won the point to pull within one. As the back-and-forth battle continued, Anna Price sent the T-Birds into the technical timeout up 16-15.

Down 18-15, Okanagan heated up with a 5-0 run that included three straight Livingston aces to flip the momentum. UBC won the next point to cut the deficit to 20-19, but UBCO then reeled off the next five points to take the set, which was finished on a Fitzpatrick kill.

Attieh got the ball rolling for the 'Birds to start the third with a flurry of digs and a kill to grab a 3-0 lead. Price's second ace of the match bolstered the UBC lead to 9-2 and Attieh made it a 10-point cushion at 14-4. UBCO then rattled off a 6-1 run to cut the lead to just five. A 4-0 run capped off by an Ann Richards kill closed the Heat to just four points at 18-14, but the 'Birds refocused and were able to fight off the visitors, taking the set 25-19.

UBC continued to play with the lead in a fourth set highlighted by an Attieh kill that connected with Livingston's face to force a timeout. The Heat kept pace and were down a pair at 19-17 after a Fitzpatrick, but Furlan and the 'Birds showed some stellar defence to keep the visitors from making a big run, and earn a 25-19 win in the set, and a 3-1 match triumph.

UBC head coach Doug Reimer knows the Heat have more to prove before all is said and done.

"I think they can bring more consistency than they did tonight. We watched them on tape recently, they've been playing really well. I'd like to give ourselves a bit of credit on that - I actually thought we did some good things defensively. They're an experienced team with a lot of offensive talent, and we're probably going to have to be better tomorrow."

UBC can clinch a spot in the Canada West championship final by taking Saturday's Game 2, which will begin at 6 p.m. PT at War Memorial Gym.

PHOTO: Rich Lam, UBC Thunderbirds