The UBC Thunderbirds fought to the end, surviving the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack 3-2 (25:27, 29:27, 25:13, 23:25, 15:13) on their return to War Memorial Gym early in the year 2022.
“It’s so much fun playing in this gym,” said UBC assistant coach Matt Krueger after the ‘Birds’ returned to the home court after a long winter break. “I went to TRU so it’s even more fun to play here. The fans were amazing, they cheered us on and kept us going.”
UBC was able to improve their Canada West record to 4-3, although several players switched positions to fill spots in the lineup.
“We’ll take it,” Kruger said. “We’ve had a lot of guys in and out of practice this week and we didn’t really know what to expect so we’re super proud of the guys. It wasn’t easy for her. We had Matt Neaves plays in the middle, which is not his normal position, TysonSmith came and played on the left side…so crazy props for them that they went on the pitch and played the roles we wanted them to play. We were nervous to start with this line-up and now that we have that under our belts it will help us a lot to move forward. We’re better off in the long run.”
Smith pulled off a career-high four kills – and added 11 digs – when the fifth-year libero took on a different role earlier in the calendar year.
“I think it just shows our depth,” Smith said after the five-set win. “It’s not ideal for the guys that we have out there right now and some guys have had to play other positions that they’re not used to, but I think it just shows we’re there to compete, fun and play together and when the boys have to get up they did a good job so it was a good night.
Matt Neaves led the ‘Birds with 17 kills, Cole Brandsma had a season high of 15 kills and Michael Dowaniuk put down 14 kills with a team high of five aces in the win.
Anton Napolitano totaled nine kills, 16 assists and 13 digs, Thundersky WalkingBear had seven kills and six blocks total, while Sam Flowerday had seven kills with three aces in the narrow loss as TRU falls to 1-5 on the season.
The Wolfpack took an early 3-0 lead before Neaves brought the ‘Birds on board with a kill. Cole Brandsma raised for a monster kill at 7-5 WolfPack before Riley Binnen came up with a huge solo block to keep the four point lead. TRU won a marathon rally with a 13-8 lead and carried a 16-13 lead into the technical timeout. Gerald Murray brought the T-Birds within a point 19-18 and UBC kept up late in the set until a miss gave the WolfPack a 24-21 set point. TRU retaliated with an error of serve at 24-22 and Duncan Clark served an ace when the home side extended the opening set. Neaves, knotted at 24-24, cranked up a kill for a set point – but TRU’s defense went big to tie again. Sam Elgert gave the visitors another set point, which they converted with a block at 27-25.
The WolfPack led 14-11 in the second set before Murray and Brandsma both pulled in a kill and the two teams traded shots mid-frame. A WolfPack attacking error gave UBC an 18-16 advantage, but the set leveled again at 27-27 before a big ‘birds block’ topped the second set at 29-27.
The Thunderbirds came out strong in the third set with a 9-3 lead that Neaves extended to 11-4. Dowhaniuk maintained the seven-point lead with a kill at 13-6, and UBC went up with a 21-12 TysonSmith kill before you take the set 25-13.
Dowhaniuk broke an 11-11 tie with a kill in the fourth set and Flowerday broke the 15-15 tie with a kill to lead TRU into the breakup set. A WolfPack block made it 21-20 and an emphatic kill from Flowerday gave the visitors a 23-20 cushion. UBC hit back and extended the set to 24-23 TRU – but it wasn’t enough as the WolfPack captured the set 25-23 on a Flowerday kill.
The fifth set was similarly close as teams switched sides, UBC led 8-7, and a Neaves ace put the T-Birds 11-9 up. Dowhaniuk destroyed a kill for a 13-10 edge, but Napolitano held TRU within two and a UBC error pinned the set at 13-12. Another WolfPack error gave the ‘Birds a match point and the contest resumed with an attacking error from the ‘Birds before Brandsma ended the win with a kill at 15-13.
UBC and TRU will wrap up their first series of 2022 on Saturday at 4:30pm PST at War Memorial Gym. The game can be streamed live on Canada West TV, free tickets are available online.