WVB: T-Birds fall to Pandas on opening night

WVB: T-Birds fall to Pandas on opening night

Stu Walters/UBC Thunderbirds

VANCOUVER – The new look UBC Thunderbirds women's volleyball team faced a tough regular season opening task in dropping a 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-23) decision to the Canada West consensus No. 1 ranked Alberta Pandas at War Memorial Gym on Friday night.

Pandas second-year outside hitter Julia Zonneveld made her presence felt throughout the match around the net and finished with a game high 11 kills while adding four digs. Fellow outside hitter Kory White also stood tall producing eight kills and eight digs while fifth year setter Mariah Walsh chipped in with a game high in both assists with 28 and two service aces for the visitors.

For the hosts, it was a familiar face leading the way in second-year outside hitter Kiera Van Ryk who shared a team high eight kills each with fourth-year middle Tessa Davis, Van Ryk also adding eight digs in the contest. Veteran setter Olivia Furlan had her usual significant impact in providing seven kills to go along with a team high 27 assists and her game high 14 digs.

The third set was the most compelling of the match as it played out like a back and forth slugfest with several lead changes and each team responding until the very end. After dropping the first two sets on home court the T-Birds came out with a vengeance thanks to three equally massive kills, two from Davis and another from Furlan to build an early 5-3 lead. The Pandas would battle back however to take a 9-7 advantage before it was the 'Birds turn to even things at 10-10 following an impressive double block by Van Ryk and Davis. Further Kills from Brynn Pasin, Van Ryk and Furlan powered UBC to a 19-17 lead forcing Alberta to call a timeout which refocused the visitors who followed up by scoring three straight points capped off by a kill from White and a 20-19 edge which led to a T-Bird timeout. The trading of points would continue and after UBC pulled within one to trail 24-23 it was the Pandas calling their final timeout for a quick regroup. Fittingly enough on the other side it was Zonneveld with the demonstrative set point kill, her sixth of the frame to secure the 25-23 set win and 3-0 victory.

The Pandas took the opening set 25-20 on the strength of Zonneveld's three kills while fourth-year outside hitter Mary Pless added six digs for Alberta who managed a team hitting percentage of .115 percent. UBC responded with four kills from Van Ryk and five kills from first-year libero Kacey Jost's five digs but only managed a team hitting percentage of .022.

Alberta followed up the opening set with an identical 25-20 second set victory on the strength of White's 4 kills in the frame while Tessa Hill delivered five digs. The 'Birds were buoyed by Victoria Behie's four kills and Furlan's 7 digs. The Pandas enjoyed a team hitting percentage of .222 while UBC countered with a less than stellar .059.

"We didn't really know what to expect from them given that Van Ryk just joined them after a pretty spectacular summer with the national team," said Pandas head coach Laurie Eisler. "I was happy with how our team responded and I know UBC will only get tougher and tougher as the season progresses. We stayed steady and responded well every time they pushed back so I'm pleased with the way we found a way to finish tonight which is positive."

Meanwhile T-Birds head coach Doug Reimer who saw significant turnover in his squad with nine new recruits joining the fold in the offseason explained post game what he thought determined the outcome on the night.

"I thought the difference was Alberta's blocking and defence especially when it needed to be near the end of sets," said Reimer. "I think we got a little better every set and we'll have to do more of that but if you look we're almost at double digits in attack errors, some of that is their blocking but a lot of that is unforced errors. So, I think a pretty frustrating night for us but we have to recognize we don't have a stable unit yet and it takes time to build that and that will be the challenge for our young team who I thought battled very hard in the third set. Overall Alberta though showed us a few of the areas that we need to be better."

The Pandas and T-Birds meet again Saturday night at War Memorial Gym with first serve scheduled for 5:00 p.m.

PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds