Aneesa Heatherington / UBC Thunderbirds
VANCOUVER – It came down to the wire for the UBC Thunderbirds in their first home contest of the calendar year, as they fell 3-2 (11-25, 25-20, 19-25, 26-24, 15-11) to the MacEwan Griffins. UBC dropped to 8-7 with the loss while MacEwan improves to 8-5 to draw even in the Canada West standings with two games in hand on the 'Birds.
"We're extremely disappointed to lose that match so that will take some time to digest," said UBC head coach Doug Reimer. "But the fact is we have to keep playing with passion, we got back on our heels and I felt we were playing not to lose. We let them dictate the way they wanted to play. Bottom line - there were too many errors at the wrong time and too many total errors so it's frustrating because you can see our high-end play is very good...but we need that more often. They got comfortable and confident against us and we didn't adapt well enough to them and they also capitalized on our mistakes."
Kiera Van Ryk finished with a match-high 18 kills and added three aces with nine digs for UBC, while Jayde Robertsen put up eight kills with six blocks and two aces. Olivia Furlan earned six aces to go with 12 digs and 35 assists.
McKenna Stevenson led the Griffins with an impressive 11 kills with just one error, a solo block and six block assists. Haley Gilfillan totalled five blocks with five kills and Hailey Cornelis had a team-high 13 digs to go with nine kills and two aces.
"I have to admit having the bye last week and coming into tonight with this being our first game back after the holiday break I was a little concerned about rust," said MacEwan head coach Ken Briggs. "UBC is so good once they get rolling but I'm very happy because we had a few players that struggled tonight and we're really trying to piece together a new lineup here because of injuries and things like that. When you can squeak out something in this gym that's pretty awesome. We took advantage of every little thing we could and I thought our middles played really well to help us grind out a victory."
The T-Birds asserted themselves early and often to debut their 2019 campaign, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and carrying a 16-6 advantage into the first technical timeout. MacEwan gained a bit of traction coming out of the break, but the 'Birds earned their first set point at 24-10 and Davis closed it out at 25-11 with her fifth kill.
Van Ryk smacked three straight aces to go up 6-4 early in the second set before the Griffins tied it up at 6-6 and took the lead on a UBC miscue at 7-6. Ciara Hanly stood tall with a solo block to pull even at 10-10 and collected another block to make it 11-10. Van Ryk capped off a lengthy rally with a cross-court kill to tie it up once again at 16-16. The Griffins then took advantage of a multitude of Thunderbird errors to earn a 23-20 lead. Then Gilfillan and Cornelis combined on blocks on the final two points to give the visitors the set win.
Robertsen opened the third with a block and Hanly went on a serving run to make it 10-6 in a tightly contested set. Victoria Behie and Furlan racked up back-to-back blocks to catalyze the UBC offense to a 21-14 lead. Rookie Kacey Jost smacked her first career kill as a Thunderbird to give her team a 23-15 lead that they would carry to a 25-19 set victory.
The fourth set saw both sides trade blows but MacEwan held a 16-12 advantage at the break and maintained a four-point cushion through to a 23-19 lead. Robertsen stepped up with her fifth block and second ace before Van Ryk smoked a kill and Furlan came up with a block to tie it up at 23-23. MacEwan held steady to take the set on a pair of T-Bird errors at 26-24 and forced a fifth.
In the deciding frame, Hanly put the 'Birds up 3-2 with an ace but the Griffins defence continued to stymie UBC's attack and the errors piled up for the home team, which trailed 8-5 at the mid-set side switch. Van Ryk came up with a huge kill to punctuate a lengthy rally at 8-7 MacEwan, but the Griffins kept the pressure on, as Gilfillan's kill capped off a late 5-1 surge to put the visitors up 13-8. Furlan then served long to give MacEwan a match point at 14-10 that Van Ryk saved on an ensuing kill. Van Ryk extended the match for the second time on her 18th kill of the match, but it was too little, too late as MacEwan finished the match on a close call. Davis' kill went into the top of the net and all four referees came together to confirm the call and end the match.
Game 2 of the series goes Saturday at 5 p.m. with fourth place in the Canada West on the line.
PHOTO: Rich Lam / UBC Thunderbirds