The No.8-ranked UBC Thunderbirds ended the No.1-ranked Trinity Western Spartans’ 16-game unbeaten streak earlier this season and now they’ve ended the Spartans’ national championship dreams.
Second-year outside hitter Kiera Van Ryk posted a career-high 32 kills in leading UBC to a thrilling five-set victory (25-23, 27-25, 23-25, 23-25, 16-14) Friday afternoon in the opening quarterfinal matchup at the 2019 USPORTS national championship at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
Senior outside hitter Victoria Behie and fourth-year middle Tessa Davis chipped in with 12 kills each for UBC, while third-year outside hitter Hilary Howe led Trinity Western with 18 kills in the loss.
On paper, this may look like an upset between the No.1 and No.8 seed, but on the floor it certainly wasn’t as these two fierce rivals put on a show in a match that featured 24 lead changes and neither team held more than a three-point lead through five sets. The match was tied an incredible 53 times.
“It’s unbelievable. I’ve been around this game a long time. Been part of a lot of great games, but I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a game like this,” said Thunderbirds head coach Doug Reimer.
“There was no quit in either team. A game like this is what you train for, and you have to feel so much gratitude that you come out on the positive side of a game like this.
“I’m speechless. It’s a testament of the resilience of both teams to play two hours and 20 minutes and leaving absolutely everything on the floor.”
UBC took the opening two sets by the slimmest of margins and despite their 2-0 lead, the T-Birds couldn’t afford to take the pressure off.
Neither team could grab any momentum and take control of the match and the Spartans weren’t going to go away easily.
The tournament’s no.1 seed and Canada West champions weren’t going down without a fight.
Sophomore outside hitter Avery Heppell who had 15 kills for TWU, came through with a big block in the third set to end an incredibly long rally and give the Spartans a 19-17 lead. After UBC tied it up at 23-23, a Brie O’Reilly kill regained the lead, and the Spartans held on to take the third set and keep their hopes alive.
The fourth set went right down to the wire, and a Howe kill sent the match the distance in this battle between two of the best programs in Canada.
“That was the closest match I’ve ever coached in. Ever. There was zero room for error,” said Spartans head coach Ryan Hofer.“We’ve been in this situation before. We asked the girls to be resilient and shed each point at a time
“We wanted to fight, battle and compete and we knew UBC would do the same, and they got it this time.”
UBC controlled the majority of the fifth set, but TWU battled back to take an 11-10 lead, but it was their only lead of the fifth set. The Thunderbirds capitalized on a couple service errors and back-to-back kills by Van Ryk finished the job and sent UBC into one of Saturday’s semifinals.
“Trinity (Western) played so well, and they pushed us and pushed hard and they almost took it away from us,” said Van Ryk. “We played our heart out. We’ve been through some adversity this year and I’m so proud of our team.”
Van Ryk, who was named the 2019 U SPORTS women’s volleyball Player of the Year on Thurday came up big in critical moments of the quarterfinal.
“The first set was a little rocky, but I thrive in these games,” said Van Ryk. “Nationals are when I really fire it up. You put some much work in the gym and watching video to get to this point in the season, and you don’t want it to go to waste. You have to put everything you have into this tournament.”
Players of the Game
- UBC: Samantha Patko
- Trinity Western: Avery Heppell
As the Exclusive Volleyball Supplier of U SPORTS, Mikasa has reaffirmed its commitment to university sports in Canada and will provide match balls, as well as other prizing to the U SPORTS Men’s Volleyball Championship and the U SPORTS Women’s Volleyball Championship in 2019 and 2020.