HAMILTON, Ont. – The Trinity Western men's volleyball team was forced to settle for U SPORTS silver, as the Spartans quest for a national championship three-peat came up just short, with UBC knocking off TWU in three sets in Sunday's national final at Burridge Gymnasium.
The Canada West champion Spartans were seeking their third straight national title, but were bettered by a UBC side that earned its first U SPORTS championship since 1983.
UBC swept away the Spartans chance at a three-peat with set scores of 25-22, 25-18, and a thrilling 27-25 closing set. This is the Thunderbirds fourth overall men's volleyball championship, having also won crowns in 1967 and 1976.
"Trinity Western is an awesome team, and part of what makes this so special is that they're continually in this national final," said UBC setter and tournament MVP Byron Keturakis. "Their being so good is what makes this so special."
The loss snaps what had been an incredible 21-match playoff winning streak, which saw TWU win three straight Canada West titles and back-to-back U SPORTS championships.
UBC was one of just two teams to hand Trinity Western a defeat in the regular season, the other being Brandon. The Thunderbirds beat the Spartans 3-1 back on Feb. 9
Including the preseason, regular season and playoffs, TWU finished the year with a 42-3 record.
With a U SPORTS silver medal, TWU has now won gold or silver in seven of the last nine U SPORTS championship tournaments. The Spartans won gold in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017 and silver in 2010, 2015 and now, 2018.
All told, TWU has earned 11 U SPORTS medals in the last 15 years, with five gold medals, four silver and two bronze.
The Thunderbirds' last appearance in the men's volleyball final came in 1984, one year after they claimed the national title.
Prior to Sunda'ys 3-0 defeat, TWU had not been swept by a team in 50 matches. That loss came back on Jan. 7, 2017 against Saskatchewan.
In Sunday's contest, Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) had a team-high 12 kills for the Spartans.
Fifth-year setter Adam Schriemer had 27 assists, two kills and an ace in his final game with TWU.
Schriemer finishes his career having won four U SPORTS medals (gold in 2016 and 2017 and silver in 2015 and 2018) and five Canada West medals (gold in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and silver in 2014 and 2015). The Spartans all-time career leader in assists played in the Canada West final in each of his five years at TWU and competed in the national championship match in each of his final four years.
UBC's Keith West and Fynn McCarthy each had nine kills to lead the Thunderbirds. Setter Byron Keturakis had 31 assists.
Trinity Western coach Ben Josephson saw a Spartans team that was denied its rhythm and comfort by constant Thunderbirds pressure.
"They did what they do best and they served with a ton of pressure," Josephson said. "I thought our receivers did a good enough job of not getting aced, but the problem was that we weren't really in a position where we could run our middle or pipe offence, which is what we build around.
"Their service game is the one thing in the country that scared me the most, and I think we saw why."
The Thunderbirds roared out of the gates in Sunday's final, and built a 16-13 lead at the technical timeout in the first set on a kill from Fynn McCarthy. Keeping things interesting as the set moved toward its endpoint, the Spartans closed within two points on several occasions but could get no closer, and UBC ended the set when Trinity Western's Jesse Elser blasted a serve well long of the back line.
Locked at eight early in the second, the Thunderbirds engineered a crucial 8-1 run with Joel Regehr at the service line to race into the technical timeout with a 16-9 advantage. Much as they did in the first, UBC showed no nerves in holding their well-earned lead, and rode another 4-1 streak to a commanding 20-12 cushion.
After a service error from Trinity Western's Jacob Kern brought up set points, the Thunderbirds converted on the third opportunity to take the two-set lead, sealing it on another service error from Elser.
The Spartans made their move midway through the third set, ripping off three straight points from 11-10 to force the Thunderbirds into a timeout. The margin was three points at the technical timeout, after Schriemer took matters into his own hands.
But UBC was not to be denied, and despite trailing 23-21 late, the Thunderbirds struck back to force extra points. A string of three consecutive points brought up a UBC championship point at 24-23 after a service error from Elser, but the Spartans produced an incredible defensive stand - including a diving stab from Schriemer -- to extend the night.
Trinity Western enjoyed a set point of their own before it was over, but saw it erased by a kill from West, and UBC made good on their second championship point when West kissed tape with the attack before it bobbled to the floor.
UBC head coach Kerry MacDonald expected a fight from the Spartans in set three, as rare as one-sided results are for Josephson's program.
"I knew after we won that second set fairly comfortably what we were on the brink of," said MacDonald. "The message to the guys was, 'let's not expect that to happen again.'"
"We had two fairly comfortable sets there, and lopsided wins against Trinity Western don't happen too often. We knew that we were in for a battle in that third, but we battled back and were able to take it."
Players of the Game
UBC: Fynn McCarthy
Trinity Western: Eric Loeppky
2018 TOURNAMENT AWARDS & ALL-STARS
Tournament MVP: Byron Keturakis - UBC
Taryq Sani - Alberta
Brandon Koppers - McMaster
Pearson Eshenko - Trinity Western
Eric Loeppky - Trinity Western
Adam Schriener - Trinity Western
Byron Keturakis - UBC
Ivan Brar - UBC
R.W. Pugh Fair Play Award: Irvan Brar, UBC