Len Catling, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds (6-5) used a balance attack and an inspiring and energetic 'School Day' crowd to sweep aside the Saskatchewan Huskies (2-7) in straight sets (25-18, 25-13, 25-23) on Friday afternoon inside War Memorial Gym.
The vaunted power and precision of the Thunderbirds' net game was too much for the Huskies to handle as Kiera Van Ryk (19 kills), Olivia Furlan (36 assists) and Courtney Hillier (eight kills) had standout performances. The 'Birds finished the day with a gaudy .340 kill percentage and nine team blocks.
The Huskies received strong games from Georgia Hurry (seven kills), Averie Allard (13 assists, seven digs), and Emily Koshinsky (six kills) in the loss, their seventh straight. The Huskies kill percentage was .135 to go along with their five team blocks.
"I'm really happy with the overall performance, as Saskatchewan is a very good team," said UBC Head Coach Doug Reimer who has his team above the .500 mark for the first time this season. "Especially our first two sets, it was probably as good as we've played overall this year."
UBC breezed through the first two sets on the back of Van Ryk and Furlan, who were relentless in their attack. Multiple times throughout the sets, Furlan would fake a pass to Hillier, before dishing a no-look set to Van Ryk for the kill.
Saskatchewan kept the first two sets fairly close with some excellent defence by third-year libero Shae Beaulieu, who finished with 11 digs.
The third set was a see-saw affair that saw 13 ties and seven lead changes before the 'Birds were able to close it out.
"As we talked about after the match, we had smart setting and good work getting the ball to our hitters," added Reimer. "We need to give ourselves some credit as we've had matches this year where we were fighting two teams, the opponents and ourselves. So I look at what we were able to do today as a big step forward."
The annual 'School Day' fixture at UBC is fast becoming a much loved tradition, with elementary aged students from Vancouver getting free admission, and in some cases their first exposure to U SPORTS volleyball.
In between the second and third sets, UBC women's volleyball alumna Katie Crawford addressed the excitable fans and told them how she first attended a UBC volleyball game when she was in elementary school. So inspired was Crawford by her trip to War Memorial Gym many years ago, she went on to a have a distinguished five-year career playing for Reimer in the Blue and Gold.
"Our sport on the women's side has had a ton of growth in recent years," said Reimer. "I think it's really good for young people to see that calibre of play. A lot of them get a chance to tour the campus and maybe they'll drag their parents back next time."
UBC and Saskatchewan will play the second game of their weekend series Saturday evening, with the opening serve going at 5:00 p.m. PT.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds