The Trinity Western Spartans outlasted the UBC Thunderbirds in a five-set marathon 3-2 (16-25, 25-20, 20-25,25-21, 15-13) on Saturday night in what was a spectacular display between the two top-ranked teams in the country. The nearly 2,000 fans in attendance were treated to an unbelievable game and the crowd created an unforgettable atmosphere for Pride Night at War Memorial Gym, celebrating inclusivity and a safe campus environment for everyone.
After dropping the first meeting of the home-and-home series last night in Langley the Spartans rebounded for the road win, improving their record to 20-2 on the season while the Thunderbirds sit just behind them at 19-3 with just one weekend left in Canada West regular season play.
The Thunderbirds appeared to be in early control of the fifth set jumping out to a 4-0 lead thanks to fourth-year setter Byron Keturakis' emphatic kill causing Trinity coach Ben Josephson to call a timeout. First-year middle Fynn McCarthy would deliver one of his game high 18 kills to put UBC up 5-2 before momentum seemed to change in the visitors favor thanks to a big Eric Loeppky block to pull TWU within two at 7-5. The teams would be tied 10-10 and 13-13 before match point provided a mini rally that ended with the hosts just pushing it wide left and a 15-13 Trinity victory.
The first set saw UBC come out very sharp and finishing with an impressive team hitting percentage of .550 thanks to 13 kills on 20 total attacks. McCarthy led the way with four kills and three digs while fifth-year left side Keith West contributed three of his eight kills on the night and also delivering two service aces. Second-year middle Jordan Deshane chipped in with three of his eight kills while Pearson Eshenko and Jackson Howe had four kills each for Trinity.
The Spartans responded in the second set with Loeppkly going skyward for four of his team high 15 kills while teammates Jacob Kern added two kills and Adam Schriemer went low for four digs. Leading the way for the 'Birds was fifth-year left side Irvan Brar with five kills and McCarthy adding to his total with four.
The T-Birds would have a response of their own after dropping the second set with Keturakis setting the tone from the service line with three service aces, giving the Surrey, B.C. native 57 on the season which is a new Canada West record, eclipsing the previous mark of 55. Brar would add four more to his total of 16 kills on the evening while McCarthy and West added two kills each. For the Spartans, it was Loeppky keeping his pace with four kills while Jacob Kern and Eshenko added two kills each.
The fourth set saw Brar and Loeppky share a set high of six kills each for their respective teams while Trinity took advantage of their best hitting percentage frame of the night at .385 thanks to 12 kills on 26 total attacks.
Thunderbirds head coach Kerry MacDonald said there was very little separating the two teams in a very close match.
"It was a great match I thought they played incredibly well," said MacDonald. "We knew all along going into this weekend that for both teams serving would be a huge difference maker and in every set whatever team won was able to string together points from the service line. They did a better job of that in the fifth set and it took them over the edge by two points."
MacDonald is pleased with the experience his squad picked up in a great playoff atmosphere against the country's top ranked team.
"Certainly, that was definitely our goal going into this weekend, we knew we had an opportunity to play the number one team in the country and we needed to take that opportunity to get better," MacDonald added "We'll take this into playoffs knowing in two weeks' time we're guaranteed to be hosting playoffs and we need to be the best team we can be heading into playoffs."
On the other side Spartans head coach Ben Josephson thought the match was a great battle that will help both squads in the long run.
"Alternating sets like we did I don't think you can point to one thing that did or didn't work, I bet you both teams were trying 19 different strategies in order and that's what we talked to our guys about, this is what playoffs will feel like. Adjust counter adjust and just play, I bet you we could play 10 sets and we'd split all 10," Josephson continued. "They got the better of us last night with their serving and tonight they didn't quite serve it as well in the second half of the match which was probably the only difference."
Joesphson also took a moment to credit fans in both venues during the home-and-home series this weekend.
"Tonight's atmosphere was incredible, congratulations to the fans, I mean we packed out our place last night which is a credit to the opponent and you guys packed it out tonight. These are the two best regular season Canada West crowds that I've ever been a part of coaching in, that's a final four atmosphere and that's what we tell our guys to expect in the playoffs."
The Spartans next travel to meet the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack next weekend while the Thunderbirds host the Saskatchewan Huskies at War Memorial Gym next Friday and Saturday.