Aneesa Heatherington, UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – It was another tough test for the UBC Thunderbirds at War Memorial Gym Saturday night as they held on for a gritty 3-1 (25-14, 12-25, 25-17, 26-24) win over the MacEwan Griffins to take sole possession of fourth place in the Canada West. Fourteen different T-Birds took to the court in the home victory as UBC bounced back from a tight five-set loss to the Griffins the previous evening.
"Kiera Van Ryk played really well, not only in the start of the match but throughout," said UBC head coach Doug Reimer. "Some people will notice how hard she's hitting the ball, they should watch how well she passed the ball tonight. I thought (Olivia Furlan) did a good job setting, not just tonight but yesterday as well. Sometimes you have to go through a bit of adversity, and both of those players are feeling a bit of it. Olivia has a pretty bad chest cold so she's fighting through that and competing hard. I thought our libero combination of Laura Worsley, who's just getting back into play after a really bad knee injury a year ago, and Sam Patko, who had a long break over Christmas, did a nice job running the floor."
Furlan had four kills and seven digs to go along with 33 assists and Van Ryk hit at a .444 clip for 20 kills, seven digs and four aces. Danae Shephard made an impact during her time at middle blocker for the T-Birds, finishing with three blocks and two kills with a service ace.
"Our team is still looking for the right combinations at the right time and at times all three of our middles this weekend did well," said Reimer. "We're still searching a little bit for the team identity and part of it might be people coming in and making contributions even if it isn't for an entire match."
Haley Gilfillan had another strong performance for MacEwan with team-highs in kills (eight), aces (three) and blocks (three). Tess Pearman also contributed eight kills with two aces and four digs, while Kylie Schubert totalled 26 assists and six digs.
Brynn Pasin dropped a pair of aces in the first set to extend the early T-Bird lead to 7-2 as UBC settled in on their home floor. Van Ryk cranked back-to-back aces for a 13-7 advantage forcing a MacEwan timeout. Carly Weber earned a big solo block for the Griffins to narrow the deficit to five at 17-12, but Pasin's fourth ace gave UBC a 23-12 lead. Siobahn Finan's first kill propelled the T-Birds to a set point at 24-13 and Finan combined with Ciara Hanly on a block to take the opening set 25-14.
Pasin's serve continued to click in the second set as she earned her fifth ace to tie up at 3-3 before Tess Pearman served two aces of her own to put the Griffins on top. The visiting team stepped up defensively and limited the T-Bird attack, jumping out to a comfortable 13-5 lead. UBC refocused after a timeout and fought back to cut the lead to 16-11 at the technical timeout, but the Griffins replied with an impressive scoring run for the 25-12 win.
Furlan got the 'Birds off on the right foot in the third set after an emphatic solo block and Van Ryk rattled off three straight kills to make it 5-2 UBC. The Canada West leading attacker got hot in the third set as her Thunderbirds led by as many as 12 points and staved off a late Griffins surge to take the third, 25-17.
Shephard and Tessa Davis joined forces for a block to take a 12-7 lead and Courtney Hillier maintained the five-point lead on a crafty tip at 16-11. Gilfillan stoned Van Ryk on a back row attempt to bring the Griffins within two at 21-19. Tied at 24-24, Kacey Jost smacked her first kill from the back row for a set point and UBC snagged their ninth win of the season as a MacEwan attack sailed long to close it out in four.
The Thunderbirds are back at War Memorial Gym next weekend to host the UBCO Heat on Friday at 6:00 p.m. PT and Saturday at 5:00 p.m. PT. The Griffins return home to Edmonton to host the Mount Royal Cougars.
PHOTO: Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds