The UBC Thunderbirds have a date with the Trinity Western Spartans, after punching their ticket to the gold medal match with a 3-1 win over the Alberta Golden Bears in the TELUS 2018 U SPORTS Men’s Volleyball Championship semifinal on Saturday evening.
UBC meets Trinity Western in the all-Canada West gold medal match set for Sunday at 4:00 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT at McMaster University. The bronze medal match will feature Alberta against host McMaster. UBC is seeking their fourth U SPORTS championship, with their last coming in 1983.
The Thunderbirds set the tone against the Golden Bears from the service line, registering 17 aces en route to avenging the rematch of the Canada West semifinal played two weeks ago.
Byron Keturakis had seven of those service aces for UBC to go along with four kills to register 11 points. He also had 33 assists in running the Thunderbirds offence and was named Player of the Match.
Alberta head coach Brock Davidiuk had a lot of praise for Keturakis in his post-game comments.
“You’ve got an international setter playing on that side,” said Davdiuk. “He’s turned into quite the quarterback of that offence, and so at times we knew what we were doing with our block, but at other times he would keep us a step off.
“UBC forced us into that disorganization. They put our backs into the corner at the beginning of the match,” continued Davdiuk. “We knew that they were going to serve the crap out of us. They’re very good at that and it’s a huge part of their identity and has been all year long.”
Thunderbirds head coach Kerry MacDonald did not want to give too much credit to UBC’s exceptional service statistics, but admitted serving is a critical component of their game plan.
“We’re an aggressive serving team and we earn a lot of points and put teams in trouble from the service line, and we did that again tonight,” said MacDonald. “I thought we were especially crisp in the first two sets. In sets three and four, we didn’t serve as well, and Alberta started to execute a lot better. “They struggled for those first two sets, both in receive and in not putting much pressure on us from the service line. They turned that around in sets three and four, and they made it a real battle for us.”
Other key contributors to UBC’s win were Keith West and Irvan Brar, registering 13 points each.
For Alberta, Taryq Sani earned Player of the Match with 15 kills, while tallying 16.5 points in the loss.
UBC jumped to a two-set lead and their serving played a big part of those wins. In the first, UBC started the game on a 7-1 run powered by four straight service aces by Byron Keturakis. At 12-3, Alberta would start their own 7-2 run to pull the score to 14-10 and bring the Golden Bears back into the game with Sani contributing three decisive kills.
However, the early damage proved to be too much for Alberta to overcome, and UBC was content to trade points back and forth to finish the first set 25-17.
UBC turned up the heat on their service in the second set, which saw the team add six aces in that frame alone. Brar had two of his three aces in the set come in a four-point run which separated the two teams at 16-11. UBC would also use its serving play to its advantage to end the set on a 6-2 run.
It was a different story in the third, with Alberta seemingly figuring out UBC’s mastery of the serve. UBC was limited to just one ace after tallying 11 in the first two sets, as the Golden Bears enjoyed much better serve reception. The result was a 25-22 set win by Alberta, with the Golden Bears closing on a 4-0 run after holding a tie with the Thunderbirds.
For the final set, UBC ratched up the pressure again on service, with four different players chipping in five aces in that set to finish Alberta. The Thunderbirds would roll to an 8-3 lead before allowing Alberta to come all the way back and square the game at 15. A 10-5 run with several key kills by West and Mat Guidi finished the Golden Bears 25-20.
UBC is one of only two teams to hand Trinity Western a defeat this season. The Spartans finished with a 22-2 regular season record, with Brandon and UBC handing them their two losses. UBC’s victory came fairly recently, with a 3-1 (25-22, 22-25, 25-17, 25-19) win back on Feb. 9.
UBC (20-4) finished as runner up in the Canada West regular season standings to Trinity Western.
MacDonald knows his team is in for a battle against the Spartans in Sunday’s championship, having met the Spartans six times over the course of this season.
“We’ve got a lot of data on Trinity Western, so we’ll go back to the drawing board, because preparation has to start all over again for a new team. That’s the challenge of this tournament: you have to see and prepare for three different teams.”
Players of the Game
- UBC: Byron Keturakis
- Alberta: Taryq Sani