LANGLEY, British Columbia – The No. 2 Trinity Western Spartans kept their hopes for a fourth consecutive Canada West Championship alive with a straight set win (25-20, 25-16, 25-18) over the defending national champion No. 9 UBC Thunderbirds Saturday evening at the Langley Events Centre.
After UBC forced a game three, with a five sets Friday night, the Spartans ended the Thunderbirds run, marking the first time since 2015-16 UBC will not continue past the quarter finals in the Canada West playoffs.
The win advances the Spartans to the semi-final game against Thompson Rivers WolfPack next Thursday, February 28th at home.
First-year outside Brodie Hofer (Langley) put a considerable dent in UBC's defense, with an overall hitting percentage of .417, with 14 kills and two aces. A close second was Eric Loeppky (Steinbach, Man.) with 11 kills and nine digs. On the Thunderbird side, rookie outside Matt Neaves (Calgary) led the team with eight kills and three blocks, while fifth-year middle Joel Regehr (Courtenay, B.C.) earned a .500 hitting percentage (5-0-10).
The first set saw the Spartans take the lead within the first three points. The momentum continued in the their favour with the noticeable help of Hofer, who took eight of the Spartans 16 kills. Hitting an average of .423 to UBC's .226, the Spartans controlled the T-Birds 31 attacks, with 12 digs, spread out evenly amongst the team. UBC called a timeout trailing 19-14, but it wasn't enough to overcome three more kills from Hofer with the Spartans taking the set 25-20.
A closer frame, the second set saw the teams tied until the eighth point, where UBC took a one-point lead, but the Spartans once again pulled away. At 14-11, Loeppky served an ace, prompting UBC to call a timeout. The break played in the Spartans favour, as UBC then placed the ball out of bounds on a tip effort. Loeppky took two more serves, from the blocking efforts of Aaron Boettcher (Surrey, B.C.) and Jacob Kern (Edmonton) on UBC's middle hitter Danny Aspenlieder. UBC earned back the serve, but not before Loeppky regained possession with a back row hit to bring the home team to 17-12. The Spartans extended their lead before closing out the set with a mid-court dump from Loeppky, winning 25-16.
Continuing their rhythm into the final set, TWU took over early earning an 8-4 lead and forcing a UBC timeout. The Spartans pulled away, leading 16-10 at the break, which they quickly extended to 18-10. Hofer delivered a final back row attack to end the defending national champions' playoff run, 25-18. The Spartans had 14 additional digs in the third set to add to a game total of 34, defending UBC's 30 set attacks. Loeppky and Hofer took five and four more kills apiece, and the Spartans earned four aces from the line.
TWU Head Coach Ben Josephson
On tonight's match:
"We talked all day about commitment. We asked the kids to be committed in every skill and to each other and that is what I saw tonight. They made mistakes, they hit balls out, got blocked, and missed serves. But they were committed on their skills and committed to their execution."
"I thought that was so evident in the way Eric served tonight. He cracked the game right open from the baseline. The way Brodie spiked his high balls when they served us tough. We got out of it with Brodie just being incredible. Our setter Derek was committed to running the offence that we wanted to, regardless of what UBC did. Yesterday we were reactionary, but today we talked about being predators and initiators and I was super proud of Derek. I thought Jackson drew a bunch of coverage, which opened up our pipe."
"The guys who struggled yesterday carried the day for us tonight. That is the type of effort that it is going to take for us to continue through the tournament."
On the play of rookie Brodie Hofer:
"Brodie's play today allowed us to do a lot of the tactical things that we did in the match. Because of how difficult UBC served tonight's game was going to have a lot of high ball situations, and that is something that Brodie excels at right now in his career."
"His jump serving and high ball spiking were huge for us. He got runs in the second and third set that were big from the baseline and terminated countless highball situations. Which allowed us to play different match-ups with Eric."
On playing next week:
"We are as healthy as we have been all year and we are playing as well as we ever have and we cannot wait for another round of volleyball next week."
- TWU was 18-4 in conference play, while UBC was 11-11.
- The Spartans are now 43-18 lifetime against the Thunderbirds.
- The Spartans now advance to the semi-final game next Thursday, February 28th against Thompson Rivers WolfPack
- The Trinity Western last faced Thompson Rivers in regular season play on January 18th and 19th, with the Spartans winning both games in three straight sets in Langley.
- This is the earliest UBC has exited the post season since 2015-16.
- This is the tenth consecutive year the Spartans have made it past the quarter-final round of the Canada West play-offs.\
- UBC defeated TWU in the U SPORTS gold medal match last March in Hamilton, Ont. to end the Spartans quest for a third straight U SPORTS championship.
The Spartans now play in the Canada West Semi-Final best-of-three series against the Thompson Rivers WolfPack next Thursday, February 28th at the Langley Events Centre. The game starts at 7:15 p.m. (PT).